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When to take your baby to the doctor–RSV and Bronchiolitis

Katie Winkler

Katie Winkler

This season, respiratory viruses have been rampant in families, schools, and communities–in both the littlest newborns and older children. As a mama of two young boys, I am right there with parents who are terrified of what a stuffy nose could lead to. So, how can we help our babies and children get medical help when they need it the most? 

One simple way is educating ourselves with accurate, reliable information. This is what I have to offer you today, mamas (and papas!). 

Below you will find answers of when to take your baby to see their pediatrician or to go to the emergency room. My personal experience as a pediatric nurse in a children’s hospital and expert opinion guides this information, giving you peace of mind that the information is trustworthy.

Respiratory viruses can be serious for our little ones. You are capable of recognizing when they need more than what you can offer at home–but snuggles and love are always healing in my opinion!

What is RSV and/or Bronchiolotis?

The CDC defines RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) as a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms that typically go away within 2 weeks (CDC.gov). While typically mild, RSV can become more serious in some children, and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in babies under the age of one.

Bronchiolotiis is inflammation of the smallest airways in your baby’s lungs. When these become irritated because of RSV or another cold virus, it can become difficult for your baby to clear mucus from their lungs and to deliver oxygen from their lungs to the rest of their body.


What will my baby look like when they need to see a doctor?

The major signs that you want to look for in your baby that signal to you they need to see their pediatrician are:

  • Baby is breathing faster than normal (infants under 1 year normally breathe less than 50 times a minute)
  • Baby has any wheezing or grunting sounds when they breathe (listen to audio link below)
  • Baby is having retractions–meaning their skin is tugging between their ribs, underneath their ribs, or above their ribs when they breathe (see image below)
  • Baby is not drinking or eating what they usually do 
  • Baby has had less than 3 wet diapers in 24 hours.
  • Baby has had a fever greater than 100.5 (less than 3 months old), or greater than 100.5 despite use of tylenol or ibuprofen (greater than 3 months old)

Below the rib retraction on a newborn


Wheezing and grunting sound in baby:

Example of Wheezing, Grunting, and Squeaking in Infant in Respiratory Distress – YouTube

When do I need to take my baby to the emergency room?

  • Any of the reasons listed above plus
    • When baby is noticeably more irritated than normal
    • Baby has no tears or their mouth is dry
    • Baby is having severe retractions

When do I need to call 911?

  • Baby is not as responsive as normal
  • Baby has blue around their mouth, or anywhere on their chest/arms/legs
  • Baby is not breathing

You can always take baby in to their doctor or emergency room if something doesn’t seem right. Trust your instincts if you feel something is wrong, those instincts are there for a reason!

I know that when baby is sick it can be scary; you are not alone in those fears. You are able to take care of your baby, mama, and sometimes that looks like asking for help. That help is there, (and here in your Mama Coaches!), do not hesitate to reach out when you feel overwhelmed and unsure. 

Helpful tools for when baby is sick: 

  • Humidifier (do not place directly in front of baby, 2-3 feet away from crib or bassinet works best) 
  • Nose Freida or Bulb Syringe
  • Boogie Micro-Mist Inhaler
  • Boogie Wipes (Kleenexes work just fine too!)
  • Saline drops
  • Tylenol if less than 6 months old
  • Tylenol and Ibuprofen if greater than 6 months old
  • Baby’s favorite snacks (if eating purées or solids)
  • Pedialyte for baby or Pedialyte popsicles if older than 2 years old

Always check with baby’s doctor for their correct dose of Tylenol and/or Ibuprofen, and to make sure that baby is getting enough to drink if not tolerating breastmilk or formula when sick. 

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