Stop Taking Advice From The Internet And Take Your Sick Kid To The Doctor

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Getty

My child has been vomiting all afternoon. He didn’t sleep a wink last night—nor did I. Now his fever is 103—and that’s after a dose of fever-reducing medication. What should I do?

No, I’m not asking for advice. I’m reporting a post I read in a mom’s group on social media. There are dozens—yes, dozens—of other posts that are strikingly similar. They aren’t just occasional, either. There are several of these my-kid-is-pretty-damn-ill posts every single day. Some parents post videos of their child’s erratic breathing, angry rashes that are spreading, and relentless coughing fits.

As a mom of four, I’m here to give you a mom-to-mom chat. If you are thinking about joining in as one of the moms trying to diagnose your child’s health issue over the internet, don’t. Instead of updating thousands of strangers on your child’s condition, do something else. Something that makes much more sense.

If your child is ill, take them to the doctor. It’s that simple.

I get that a middle-of-the-night trek to the ER isn’t the most pleasant. I understand that spending your Saturday morning at urgent care, surrounded by other sick people, isn’t ideal. I empathize with all of the parents cuddling feverish children in the pediatrician’s waiting room—because everyone is miserable.

Hands down, having a sick kid sucks. It’s not only rough for the sick kiddo, but for the parent, and the entire household. You worry that whatever they have is contagious. Should you sanitize every surface or sit and cuddle your kid? How can you run out for OTC meds and comfort food when you’re glued to your child’s side? Why didn’t you pick up that mega pack of cough drops the last time you were at the store?

I get it. I need to be real with you though. The strangers in your online mommy group—even if some of them happen to be nurses or doctors—aren’t there to examine your child, render an accurate diagnosis, and tell you what to do next to comfort and heal your kiddo. You could literally be conversing with anyone over something critical—namely, the well-being of your child.

I have four kids, and I consider myself a fairly experienced mom. I cringe every time I see another pic of a toddler’s vomit, plus a timeline of how many times the child has puked in a matter of just two hours, and a mom asking, “How much blood is too much?”

Your child’s illness could be something perfectly normal for this time of year. Plenty of kids get the dreaded stomach bug, HFM, or a cold. ‘Tis the season to share germs, right? And I hope that whatever your child is battling is nothing a little ginger ale, chicken noodle soup, facial tissues, ten hours of Netflix, and pain reliever can’t fix.

But what if it’s not? What if your child’s fighting something much more serious and urgent? What if your toddler’s erratic breathing is a sign of RSV or pneumonia? What if your teen’s lethargy and thirst is the onset of type 1 diabetes? What if your preschooler’s strange rash and vomiting is strep throat—and they need antibiotics? What if your seven-year-old’s climbing fever is the start of influenza?

I’m not trying to freak you out. But I’m going to tell you that, hands down, the most qualified person to evaluate and treat your child is an actual doctor—not the parents who are also up at midnight, whom you’ve never met and never will. Go to the person with a framed medical degree on the wall and the ability to write a prescription. Don’t yield to the local mom who is doing her best to sell you essential oils in your moment of exhaustion.

Every time I read a thread of responses to the desperate parent of a sick child, I begin to wonder if I’m in some sort of other universe. A lot of the advice the parent receives is completely ridiculous, and I pray the mom or dad is smart enough not to follow it.

A child who is covered in a mysterious rash probably shouldn’t be subject to an ice bath—like the grandma of three kids suggests—because that’s how she parented and her kids turned out just fine. A kiddo who has a 104 fever won’t be magically restored to optimum health after sipping a greens shake sold by Ms. MLM. The tween who has had an intense migraine for three days straight isn’t going to pop up and return to basketball practice after you rub your sister’s breastmilk on her forehead.

I’m all for healthy eating, fresh air, probiotics, chiropractic care, and more au natural treatment plans—if and when they make sense. But how can you treat the ailment without an accurate diagnosis?

I know—sounds surreal, right? But anyone who is in online mommy groups knows I’m not kidding. Then there’s the rest of us—the practical, experienced, not-playing parents who simply respond: “Take your child to the doctor ASAP.”

I’m not suggesting that every sniffle, butt rash, cough, or bout of diarrhea warrants a trip to the pediatrician. Of course not. But if your child has a high fever, can’t keep anything down, is lethargic, is covered in a mysterious rash, or can’t even walk—pack them up with a blanket and head to the doctor. Don’t waste time taking pictures or videos and typing a detailed caption to post to your favorite mommy group.

Spend your energy caring for your child. Be a responsible adult, decisively taking your kiddo to a medical professional. There will be plenty of time for mommy group chat later–while you’re cuddled up with your ill-but-recovering kiddo on the couch.

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