Chicago mom shares tips on handling sick kids and hospital visits

It’s the season of flu, croup and all their germy buddies. Sick babies are scary. When your baby is lethargic, coughing uncontrollably or having a hard time breathing it can be terrifying to watch. As a mother with anxiety it can really rattle me. I have to work really hard to keep my healthcare experience, anxiety and worse case scenario-self in check. Otherwise we would be at the emergency room every other month.

Over the Christmas holiday our youngest who is nine months old was sick and getting sicker. I didn’t want to bother our doctor over the holiday, although we’ve done that before. I also didn’t want to ruin everyone’s holiday. I’m a people pleaser to the bitter end. So, we suffered through two days of a cranky, crying, clingy and increasingly sick little guy. My mama gut told me he was really sick, probably pneumonia, and that he probably needed to be admitted. But my mama gut also lies and tells me things like I’m a bad mom and that the kids taking the extra long nap have really stopped breathing. So sometimes, I don’t listen to it.

To make a long story short I took him to our doctor first thing in the morning on the 26th and by 5 P.M. we were in the ER. By midnight we were being admitted into Advocate Children’s Hospital for Pneumonitis, reactive airway disease and dehydration. It was super scary, stressful and exhausting. I not only am an asthmatic myself, but have had two ER visits with kids for croup and one child that had Reactive Airway Disease for 2 years. I figured if I felt this way as an “experienced” mom, someone who didn’t have experience must be terrified.

So, I thought I would share with you some practical tips for handling sick babies, when to go to the ER and how to handle being there.

{Note that I am not a medical professional and this should not replace consulting an actual medical professional. This is just what I have learned in my eight years as a mama}

1. You have to trust and be able to call your doctor at anytime. If you can’t, get a new one. I could have called my doctor when my baby was sick, I just didn’t want to.

2. Dr. Google is not your friend. It will only fuel anxiety. If I choose to look up symptoms I use only specific sites. is a favorite of mine because he’s a little crunchy (like me) and non-alarmist.

3. Sometimes common sense doesn’t work. I’ve been through severe croup with two babies. What I wish I knew then, I’m sharing with you now. All the resources will tell you to take baby into a hot steamy shower to ease the cough. That works sometimes. It’s the best method for helping my son. But what the books don’t tell you is that for some kids, cold temps actually work better.

Common sense tells you not to take a baby unbundled outside in the cold, but for some kids that’s enough to calm the coughing down. For my daughter, it’s exactly what she needs. Which we learned when her symptoms all but stopped on the ride to the ER.

4. Know what’s normal and rationally compare. My brain goes into overdrive when a kid is sick, I can give you all the worst case, rare disease scenarios in a second. What helps me focus and calm down is knowing what the baseline is for certain things and very analitically comparing them. So when my kid is sick I count their respirations. Normal respirations for an infant are 20-30 when my sons rates were nearing 50 I knew we had to call the doctor and go in.

5. The scale doesn’t lie. Diapers today are super absorbent. If you have a child that has moved beyond those new ones with the line that tells you if it’s wet or not it can be hard to decipher if a diaper is a little wet or dry. I’m pretty sure we were trying to convince ourselves over Christmas that several of our sons diapers were wet when they were not. Get out your kitchen scale, weigh a new one then weigh the one you just took off. Once we did that we realized he really wasn’t peeing. Babies should make at least 4-5 wet diapers a day and he wasn’t having any, that was the other sign we had to go in.

6. Breast is best, and it’s not dairy. I didn’t realize that people thought breastmilk was dairy until I was in the ER and the nurses (yes, more than one) told me to stop nursing my scared, sick and crying baby because we should “avoid milk since he has so much junk in his chest.” The ER doctor did let me nurse, a little, but then he tried to give him pedialyte despite my telling him he has never had a bottle. As scary as having an IV put into your child is, hydrating them is important. Once we were in pediatrics, we were all on the same page and I resumed nursing on demand.

7. You are not the bad guy. Your child is going to be scared, sad, angry and hurting. You need to be the comforter, not the restrainer. I was so grateful for the Child Life Specialist in the ER who helped distract us through procedures. The nurses in pediatrics were equally awesome letting me leave the room during procedures and making sure I was never the one to hold him down.

8. Be their voice. You know your child best, you need to be able to help them communicate their needs to the staff. Our first night was horrible. We didn’t get to our room until after midnight and I could not get him settled despite nursing almost constantly. After two hours I said to our nurse “Something has to be wrong, he is not a crier. I don’t think he’s cried this much in his life.” That was all it took; a seemingly innocuous statement fixed everything. She turned on the lights determined to help him and after examining him from head to toe found his IV to be infiltrated.

The hospital is scary for adults and children. My most important bit of advice is to remember your child is looking to you for comfort and how to react. If you stay strong and positive it will make everyone calmer. It’s why I, despite my anxiety, handle the medical stuff. I almost shut down so I am eerily calm in the moment. My husband, not so much. He comes in after the dust settles and takes over so I can go collapse and fall apart in private.

 I hope I've helped at least one of you. May you never need my advice.
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