Is my child sick?

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Is my child very sick?

Healthy young children have up to 12 infections each year. These are a normal part of childhood. As a parent or caregiver you deal with these but you may worry about missing a serious illness.

There is no foolproof system to tell you whether or not your child is seriously ill. Knowing your child and seeing a change in your child’s behaviour could be the most important clue.

What do you do if you think your child is sick?

Depending on the circumstances you may decide to:

  • see your GP (general practitioner)
  • go to an after hours medical centre
  • dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) for urgent medical help

You should stay calm and explain why you are worried about your child. Ask for your child to be seen by a doctor.

If you are waiting to be seen and think that your child is getting sicker, calmly explain again why you need your child to be seen soon.

If your child has already seen a doctor but they are getting worse, you should take them back for another check. It can help to take your child back to the same doctor but this won't always be possible.

In some circumstances it might be better to dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) for help rather than travel to the doctor using your own car. 


The following is a list of some of the symptoms that mean your child has a significant health problem.

See a doctor if your child:

  • has an unusual colour – they are very pale or have blue tongue and lips
  • has a worrying rash especially one that does not go away when you press on it (see a photo of a meningococcal rash)
  • is very sleepy or drowsy
  • has an unusual high-pitched cry
  • has trouble breathing, has noisy breathing or is breathing fast
  • complains of a stiff neck or light hurting their eyes
  • has a severe headache
  • refuses to drink - even small sips 
  • is not doing wee
  • is doing wee that is very dark or has blood in it
  • vomits a lot – and cannot keep sips of replacement drinks down
  • vomits green fluid (bile)
  • vomits blood – this may be red or brown or look like coffee grounds if it is not fresh
  • has black tar-like stools or blood in the bowel motions
  • has frequent and watery poo (diarrhoea)
  • has a fever that lasts for more than 2 days
  • is in pain
  • is not interested in surroundings (lethargic) 
  • is getting sicker or is not improving after 2 days

What about young babies?

Young babies (less than 3 months old) need a more cautious approach.

If your child is under 3 months old and you are worried about them, they should be checked by a doctor, even if they do not have one of the above symptoms. You should trust your instinct.

This page last reviewed 13 November 2012
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2015
Printed on 01 March 2015. Content is regularly updated so please refer to for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand