Is it normal? When is sick too sick?

18 Mar 2019

Is it normal? When is sick too sick?

Sometimes it can seem like your child is always sick but, fortunately, most childhood illnesses are minor. The human body has a great healing system, and children usually get better after a few days, without any medical treatment ‒ just a bit of extra love, attention, fluids, and food. But children can get worse very quickly if they are seriously ill (that is why the extra attention is so important!).

Mum And Dad Know Their Child Best

As parents, you know your child better than anybody, so trust your gut feelings about whether your child is unwell. From birth, you have attended to their cries, their wet and dirty nappies, what they eat and drink, the way they move, how they sleep, their early speech, and the way they interact with you and others. You know how your child behaves when they are well, tired, hungry, and hurt. No one else knows your child like you do. You are the experts on your child.

If You're Worried, Please Seek Help

If you are worried, trust your gut and seek help. When young children are sick, their behaviour changes, and parents notice small changes in their child that others may miss. Even if you do not know exactly what it is, and you are worried, seek help.

If You Are Worried About Your Baby Or Child:

  • Phone PlunketLine (0800 933 922), or
  • Take your child to their doctor (GP), nurse practitioner, or practice nurse.

If you have seen or talked to a health professional recently, but you are still worried, call or visit again. Health professionals know they should pay attention to a worried parent.

Keep Children At Home When They're Ill

To protect other children, and to stop the spread of bugs, you should keep your child at home when they are ill. How long they should be home depends on what illness they have. The HealthEd website ( describes the stay-at-home period for some common childhood illnesses.

Danger Sign Checklist

Get help quickly from a doctor if your child shows any of these signs. Call 111 for urgent help.


✔ Cannot be woken or is responding less than usual to what is going on around them.

✔ Has glazed eyes and is not focussing on anything.

✔ Seems more floppy, more drowsy, or less alert than usual.

✔ Has a convulsion or fit. 

✔ Has an unusual cry (weak, high-pitched, or continuous).

✔ Has severe tummy pain.

✔ Has a bulge in the groin that gets bigger with crying.


✔ Struggles to breathe or stops breathing.

✔ Wheezes when breathing out. Breathes more quickly than normal or grunts when breathing out.

Skin colour/circulation

✔ Blue colour around the mouth.

✔ Nails are blue, or big toe is completely white or mottled, or colour does not return to toe within three seconds of being squeezed.

✔ Skin is much paler than usual or suddenly goes very white.

✔ A rash develops with reddish-purple spots or bruises (don't wait for a rash if you are concerned; seek help).

Vomiting and diarrhoea

✔ Has vomited up at least half of their last three feeds (milk or food).

✔ Vomit is green.

✔ Has both vomiting and diarrhoea.

✔ Has drunk less fluid and has fewer wet nappies or visits to the toilet than usual.

✔ Blood in their poo (ttae).


✔ Temperature below 35°C or above 38.5°C (normal body temperature is 37°C). A raised temperature is a normal response to illness and a sign of infection that may need treatment.