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A child with a fever.

A child with a fever.
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Looking after a sick child

4-minute read

It can be hard to know what to do when your child is sick. Should they be in bed, should they go to school or childcare, or do they need to see the doctor? Here are a few tips that may help when your child is unwell.

Keep them comfortable

If your child is ill, the most important thing to do is to listen to them. Unless they are very sick most young children will not want to stay in bed. If they say they don’t need to be in bed, they probably don’t. They might feel better on the sofa with a blanket or doona.

The following will help them feel more comfortable.

  • Keep the room well ventilated. If the room is too warm, they'll probably feel worse.
  • Give your child plenty to drink. For the first day or so don't bother about food unless they want it. After that start trying to tempt them with bits of food and encouraging them to have nutritious drinks like milk.
  • Try to give your child time for quiet games, stories, company and comfort.
  • Sick children get very tired and need plenty of rest. Encourage your child to doze off when they need to, perhaps with a story read by you or as an audio book.

Never fall asleep with a sick baby on the sofa with you, even if you're both exhausted. This increases the chances of sudden infant death syndrome.

If your child has an infectious illness, isolate your child from other children and susceptible adults to prevent a spread of illness. All illness can cause serious complications in susceptible people. This means keeping the child away from school or child-care.

Your doctor can give you advice on how to treat your child's illness.

When to be worried

Call an ambulance if your child has a fever and:

  • is very drowsy or you can’t wake them
  • is having breathing problems
  • has pale, blue or blotchy skin
  • has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press on it
  • has fit or convulsion for the first time, or one lasting more than 5 minutes

Seek medical advice immediately if your child has a fever and:

  • is less than 3 months old
  • isn’t passing as much urine as usual
  • isn’t feeding normally
  • is vomiting a lot

If you’re not sure – seek medical help. Trust your instincts.

Getting expert help

If you think your child is ill, contact your local doctor or out-of-hours service. Your doctor can give you advice on how to treat your child's illness and prescribe medicines.

Your doctor sees a lot of sick children and is there to support parents of small children. Many will fit babies in without an appointment or see them at the beginning of surgery hours and will also give advice over the phone.

If your child has signs of a serious illness or you are concerned, contact your doctor or take them straight to the emergency department of your local hospital.

You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for medical advice, 24 hours a day (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Dealing with minor accidents

Most doctors' surgeries are equipped to deal with minor casualties, such as cuts or items trapped in the nose or ear. In this situation, ask your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for advice on where to go before you go to an emergency department.

Look after yourself

Looking after a sick child, even for a couple of days, is exhausting. Make things as easy for yourself as you can. Get rest and sleep when you can, and try to get somebody else to take over every now and then to give you a break.

You may also want to take advantage of services like online delivery from supermarkets if you are unable to get out of the house.

What care do I need?

The Australian health system has many different types of service available to help you. Watch this video to learn about the most appropriate service for your health needs.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020

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