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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | March 18, 2016

Don’t Call Your Doctor In The Middle Of The Night If…

Parents and friends often ask me about the weird or strange calls I get. Obviously, I can never divulge details. But I have a running list of things NOT to call me about in the middle of the night. (Sometimes I think people don’t realize that the on-call doc is actually at home in bed but has agreed to take emergency calls when they come through.) I figured I should put together a top 10 list. I’ll add to it as time goes on, but for now, let me add a couple based on types of calls I’ve personally received at 3 am.

Don’t call your doctor in the middle of the night if:

  1. Your child hasn’t pooped in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (well any number of) days. Unless you have an acute problem related to your child’s constipation, your concerns can probably wait until morning. Poop is rarely an emergency, and if your child is asleep, but just hasn’t pooped today, 3 am is not the best time to handle questions.
  2. You’re concerned that your child can’t sleep, or is having problems sleeping, but when I ask where your child is now, you say “asleep in bed.”
  3. Your child is bleeding profusely from a major injury (like his head is cracked open) and requires immediate medical attention. Instead, call 911 or rush your child to the emergency room. I’m good, but just can’t perform CT scans or sew up a kid’s head over the phone.
  4. You work nights (so you’re up), and were just wondering about something in general.
  5. You need a dose of a medication. Medication doses are usually listed on the bottle. Tylenol and Motrin (the most common offenders) have doses listed on my site, listed on their own sites, in the handouts we give you at every well visit, and all over the Internet. General reminder, don’t give Tylenol under 2 months and Motrin under 6 months.
  6. You’re not going to answer your phone. Don’t call then ‘leave you phone in the other room,’ ‘inadvertently turn it off,’ not plug it in so ‘it died,’ etc. I know these are the reasons, because inevitably I get a second call 45 mins later (just after I’ve fallen back asleep).
  7. Your child has had the same symptom for 3+ weeks and you’re calling in the middle of the night just to discuss it. My husband knows I’m getting frustrated if he hears me say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What’s changed? Why are you calling me now (aka the middle of the night) about this problem?”
  8. You are not an established patient of the clinic.
  9. You already have your mind made up how you are going to handle the situation, no matter what the doctor recommends. For example, your mind is made up to take your child to the ER anyhow, or vice versa, regardless of what the doc says. Or, the doc is worried and suggests you take your child in, but you won’t.
  10. You want to discuss what is normal developmentally. You aren’t likely to get a nice, thorough response at that hour.

I don’t want this post to sound bitter. As a general rule, my parents are awesome! Most calls are totally appropriate. And I get it, parenthood is filled with uncertainty and questions. In social situations, I always get asked, “what are the worst calls you get?” I think there is a morbid curiosity (like, parents are using a measuring stick to make sure their calls aren’t crazy). Feel free to call in the middle of the night if you have a pressing concern or problem. If it can wait until morning, then wait.

-Photos courtesy of