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Is your baby or toddler seriously ill?

Trust your instincts

It can be difficult to tell when a baby or toddler is seriously ill, but the main thing is to trust your instincts.

You know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you'll know when something is seriously wrong.

Signs of serious illness in a baby or toddler

Here's a checklist of warning signs that might indicate your baby or toddler is seriously ill and requires medical help.


  • a high temperature, but cold feet and hands
  • a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen (do not give paracetamol to a baby under 2 months and do not give ibuprofen to a baby under 3 months or under 5kg, unless prescribed by a doctor)
  • a very high or low temperature
  • your child feels hot or cold to touch, or is shivering
  • your child is quiet and listless, even when their temperature is not high
  • a high temperature in a baby less than 2 months old

Find out more about high temperature (fever) in children and what to do


  • rapid breathing or panting
  • a throaty noise while breathing
  • your child is finding it hard to get their breath and is sucking their stomach in under their ribs

Other signs

  • blue, pale, blotchy, or ashen (grey) skin – on brown or black skin, this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • your child is hard to wake up, or appears disoriented or confused
  • your child is crying constantly and you cannot console or distract them, or the cry does not sound like their normal cry
  • green vomit
  • your child is not feeding normally and you're worried
  • nappies that are drier than usual – this is a sign of dehydration

Where to get help for a seriously ill child

If your child has any of signs of serious illness, get medical help as soon as possible:

  • during the day from Monday to Friday – it's best to call your GP surgery
  • evenings and weekends – call NHS 111
  • if your baby is under 6 months old it's hard for a doctor or nurse to assess them over the phone – you can go to an urgent treatment centre or, if you're very worried, take them to A&E

When to visit urgent treatment centres (urgent care services)

Find your nearest A&E

When to call an ambulance

Call 999 for an ambulance if your child:

  • stops breathing
  • will not wake up
  • has a spotty, purple or red rash anywhere on their body that does not fade when you press a glass against it, as this could be a sign of sepsis – on brown or black skin, this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • is under 8 weeks old and you're very worried about them
  • has a febrile seizure (fit) for the first time, even if they seem to recover
  • has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • may have been seriously injured by you or someone else

Trust your instincts. You know what's different or worrying behaviour in your child.

More information about serious illness that can affect babies and toddlers

Learn the signs of serious illnesses that can affect children, including:

Page last reviewed: 24 August 2023
Next review due: 24 August 2026