It can be hard to tell if a newborn baby is seriously ill because they can’t tell you what’s wrong. Here’s how to know when to call the GP…

Most babies and young children will pick up colds or minor infections at some point. But it can be difficult to tell if your newborn baby has something more serious.

One of the main bits of advice is to trust your instincts. You know what’s usual for your child and may be able to tell early on if they are very ill. If you aren’t sure whether you’re right to be concerned, always ask your doctor (NHS, 2017a).

When to call the GP, 111 or 999?

When to call 999?

If your baby is seriously ill and needs emergency medical help, call 999 for an ambulance. For example, if your baby:

  • has stopped breathing or is having serious difficulties breathing
  • is floppy and unresponsive or won’t wake up
  • your child has a fit (convulsion) that isn’t stopping, eg a febrile seizure
  • has a spotty, purple-red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it (this could be a sign of septicemia)
  • they’re showing signs of meningitis and septicaemia
  • has severe bleeding that won’t stop
  • has severe scalds or burns
  • has a severe allergic reaction
  • becomes unwell after swallowing something harmful - like medicine or a button battery (take the packet with you to show the doctors)
  • seems to have been seriously injured by someone.

(NHS, 2016a, 2017a; Meningitis Now, 2018; NHS, 2018)

GP surgeries are open from Monday to Friday but if you can’t get through to your doctor’s surgery or if you have an urgent medical concern, call NHS 111. In a medical emergency, call 999.  

Here’s when to get help for your baby’s temperature and other signs and symptoms…

Call your GP immediately or NHS 111 if it’s an evening or weekend explaining your baby’s age and symptoms if:

  • your baby is younger than three months old and they have a temperature of 38⁰C (101⁰F) or higher
  • your baby is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39⁰C (102⁰F) or higher (read more in our article about what to do if your child has a temperature)
  • your child has a fever that has gone on for longer than five days
  • they have a high temperature yet their feed and hands are cold, or ibuprofen or paracetamol don’t reduce their temperature
  • their breathing is rapid, throaty or difficult, or they’re panting
  • you think your baby may be dehydrated – read about the signs of dehydration here
  • your baby has other signs of being unwell, such as being off colour (eg pale), refusing to feed and they’re under eight weeks, green vomit, or drowsiness and confusion
  • they are crying non-stop, they have a high-pitched or unusual sound when crying, or the cry doesn't sound like their normal cry
  • you are worried about your baby - trust your instincts if you think they could be seriously ill
  • you’re concerned about your baby, they’re not eating and they’re not themselves
  • your baby's health is getting worse or you have concerns about looking after them at home.

(NICE 2013; NHS 2016b, 2017a,b)

What if my GP surgery or health centre is closed?

If you call your GP and it’s closed, you might be directed to call an out of hours service. There will be a phone number for out of hours service on your GP surgery’s answerphone. They can sometimes arrange a walk-in appointment for you to get your baby seen fast (NHS, 2016c, 2017a). You can also call 111…

When to call 111 for your baby?

  • If you aren’t sure who to call for medical help and there is no immediate threat to life, you can call 111 to speak to a medical advisor.
  • Call 111 if you want to check whether you need to go to A&E or another urgent care service.
  • NHS 111 has an information website as well as its advice line.

(NHS, 2012, 2016b, 2017c)

The health advisor at 111 will ask you questions about your child’s symptoms. Based on your answers, they will advise you whether you can care for your child at home or whether they need to go to an out-of-hours centre or hospital, or to the GP practice (NHS, 2012, 2016b, 2017c).

When to take your baby to A&E?

If your baby needs immediate treatment for an illness or injury that's not life-threatening, you might need to take them to A&E. For example, if your baby:

  • has a fever that persists even after you've given them paracetamol or ibuprofen and especially if they are floppy and drowsy (NICE, 2013).
  • has an object firmly lodged in their nose or ear. Don't try to remove it yourself, as you don’t want to push it further in (Heim et al, 2007).

If you’re really concerned about your newborn baby’s health always trust your instincts and seek urgent medical advice (NHS, 2017a).

This page was last reviewed in October 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

If you need medical information fast and your doctor’s surgery or centre is closed. Go to https://111.nhs.uk/ or call 111. In a medical emergency always call 999.

Information from NHS Choices on how to treat a fever, leaflet about the NHS 111 service,  more about when to call 999.

More information about meningitis from NHS Choices and the signs and symptoms of meningitis from Meningitis Now.  

Heim SW, Maughan KL. (2007) Foreign bodies in the ear, nose and throat. Am Fam Physician. 76(8): 1185-1189.

Meningitis Now. (2018) Signs and symptoms. Available at: https://www.meningitisnow.org/meningitis-explained/signs-and-symptoms/ (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2012) 111 – The new NHS number. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/Emergencyandurgentcareservices/Documents/2012/NHS%20111%20Easy%20Read%20leaflet.pdf (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2016a) Meningitis. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/ (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2016b) Fever in children. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/treating-high-temperature-children/ (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2016c) NHS out-of-hours services. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/urgent-and-emergency-care/nhs-out-of-hours-services/ (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2017a) Does your child have a serious illness? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/spotting-signs-serious-illness/  (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2017b) Dehydration. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/

NHS. (2017c) NHS 111. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/urgent-and-emergency-care/nhs-111/  (accessed 1st September 2018)

NHS. (2018) When to call 999. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/urgent-and-emergency-care/when-to-call-999/(accessed Sep 2018, NHS 2018 web page reviewed Aug 2018)

NICE. (2013) Fever in under 5s: assessment and initial management. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg160 (accessed 1st September 2018)

Related articles

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member
Excited couple holding pregnancy test
Sign up to our weekly Pregnancy & Baby Guide

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods online workshop

Find out more