Too sick for day care? Experts weigh in

As the cold weather approaches, and you gear up for cough and cold season; your child is bound to get sick. On average, kids catch anywhere from six to 10 colds a year. And whether it’s a common cold or something more serious, sometimes you’re unsure if you should send your child to day care or keep him home.

Here, some experts weigh in on what to consider when making this decision:

It’s more than a runny nose.
Symptoms of a viral infection - sneezing, runny nose, congestion and cough might not necessarily warrant a day off from day care, especially if your child is happy and active. Once his symptoms slow down, your child looks well and seems happy, it’s probably safe to send him back.

Yet, if he’s having several coughing episodes an hour, is wheezing or having difficulty breathing, which could indicate a more serious infection, you’ll definitely want to take him out and see your pediatrician, according to Dr. Zak Zarbock, a pediatrician in South Jordan and Herriman, Utah. If your child has been prescribed antibiotics, he should take them for at least 24 hours before returning.

If your child has had a temperature above 101 degrees within the last 24 hours, has excessive fatigue, isn’t eating and looks ill, he or she should stay home. Sometimes fever is the only symptom and will resolve itself within three to five days, but she or he might be contagious. If the fever lasts longer than four or five days, be sure to see the pediatrician because it’s probably more than a simple virus, according to Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician in Westlake Village, Calif., and a designated spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The sick policy
Most daycare centers have a sick child policy which outlines when kids should stay home. And although it’s not always feasible to take a day off of work, it’s a good idea to take into account the other children as well.

“Before you take him out, think to yourself, 'Would I want another child with the same symptoms around my child?'” Altmann said.

Your baby’s age
It’s important to take into account your child’s age, since symptoms in babies under 3 months old look very different from older children who have had their first set of vaccines and whose immune systems are stronger. Newborns with a fever of 104 or more should be seen by a pediatrician right away. Because it’s difficult to tell the cause of the fever, the baby will need a full work up.

“In that immediate newborn period,  they can get very sick, very quickly,” Altmann said.

If your child’s vomiting, it’s a definite day off from day care. Be sure to give him small amounts of fluid frequently. If she can’t keep food or water down or has signs of dehydration: sunken in eyes, fewer wet diapers, doesn’t cry tears, call the pediatrician immediately.

Many causes of viral diarrhea could last a week or longer and are usually not serious, but it’s best to keep your child home. Once the diarrhea has slowed down, she can return to daycare, but be sure to alert the staff.

“Most cases of viral diarrhea can spread really quickly through day cares and preschools so it’s a good idea to let them know so they can be extremely careful and cautious,” Altmann said.