A child calamity? See 10 steps

Babies come with everything they need except an owner's manual. So, what do you do when things go wrong?

First, don't panic, as they say in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


The book also says to always carry a towel, which isn't a bad idea when it comes to babies.

But, seriously, we talked with Dr. Douglas Baker, medical director of the Emergency Department at Children's Medical Center Dallas, about the top 10 things that scare new parents and the best ways to handle them.


He prefaces his advice by suggesting that parents be familiar with CPR and that they contact the baby's primary care physician at the first sign of trouble.

So keep the doctor's number handy, along with the number for the poison-control hotline (1-800-222-1222). And don't hesitate to call your doctor, even on weekends or after business hours. Most doctors provide an emergency number for that purpose.

1. Running a fever

If your baby is younger than 2 months, this requires immediate attention.

The good news: Ninety percent of the time, the problem is viral, and the baby will get better on her own.

But be cautious: Ten percent of the time, the fever is caused by a bacterial infection that could harm the baby if not treated with antibiotics. So err on the side of caution and take the baby to the doctor or the emergency room.

2. Jaundice

A baby develops yellow skin or yellow eyes in the first few days of life. This often is because of an immature liver, but it can be caused by other disorders.


The good news: It's very common (breast-fed babies often get it), and very easily treatable.

But be cautious: Problems can occur if you ignore it. See a doctor when you notice the signs.

3. Breathing trouble

The most common breathing difficulty is bronchiolitis (as opposed to bronchitis in adults). That's an inflammation of the very small airways in a baby's lungs.

The good news: This is a common condition, especially in winter, often caused by Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Sometimes, inhaled medicines are all that are needed for a baby manifesting simple cold symptoms.

But be cautious: If the baby is wheezing, looking blue or working too hard to breathe, he might need supplemental oxygen and other treatment at the hospital.


4. Baby falls

A baby younger than 6 months can suffer a serious injury to the head if she falls a couple of feet on a hard surface, including carpet over a hard surface.

The good news: Most of the time, the child is fine.

But be cautious: Even if the child doesn't show symptoms such as swelling of the scalp, sleepiness or irritability, it's best to call the doctor. The doctor might want to examine the baby and possibly recommend a CT scan to look for a small crack in the bone or an accumulation of blood inside the skull.

5. Poison fears

You find the baby near spilled household cleaners, and you're not sure whether he has gotten any into his system.


The good news: Most of the time, the baby is fine.

But be cautious: Call the toll-free national poison-control center at 1-800-222-1222, describe the possible poisons and symptoms and ask the poison information specialist on duty whether you should go to the emergency room.

6. Sunburn

You had a great time outside, but when you get home the baby is sunburned and crying.

The good news: This usually is not an emergency, and discomfort can be treated with Tylenol or liquid Motrin.

But be cautious: A first-degree sunburn can cause substantial pain and could warrant a trip to the doctor. If you are uncertain, call the doctor.


7. Hand slammed in the door

Parents tend to panic if their baby's hand gets caught in a car door, but it's usually more dangerous to get a hand caught in a house door.

The good news: In cars, hands usually are caught in the part where the latch is (not the hinges), where it's a loose fit. Unfortunately, that's not the case with house doors. Still, if the baby calms down quickly, can move her fingers normally and has no visible injury or tenderness, it's probably OK.

But be cautious: An open cut, hanging nail or swollen or disfigured finger require a visit to a physician.

8. Constant crying

Cry, cry, cry and they can't tell you why. This makes parents crazier than usual.


The good news: Often, this problem will go away by itself: gas from a baby needing a burp, a wet diaper that needs to be changed, an overtired baby who needs comforting.

But be cautious: Crying also can be caused by discomfort you can't see, such as a scratch on the surface of the eye from the baby's fingernail or hair twisted around a toe or finger. Chat with the doctor on the phone to see whether this merits a visit.

9. Water worries

Your baby's head slips under the water in the swimming pool or the bath.

The good news: If you've seen the baby go under and you pull her out immediately and she spits water and breathes, it's probably OK.

But be cautious: If you don't know how long the baby has been underwater and she does not come up smiling or crying and breathing right away, perform CPR and call 911.


10. Baby's happy!

Your child is in good temper during the day and sleeps blissfully through the night. It happens.

The good news: You have a healthy baby.

But be cautious: Don't whoop with joy too loudly. It could inspire jealousy in other parents -- and wake the baby.