Was that just a sneeze or was it a 'sick' sneeze?

Sometimes it's hard to tell when "Mama, I'm sick" means you should keep your child home from day care and it's not always an easy decision for working parents to make.

Don't worry; you're not alone if you're having this conversation with yourself. "How sick, is too sick" is a question that plagues many parents as they head off to work for the day. A sniffle here or a cough there is no big deal, but according to the experts there are a few symptoms that should serve as red flags to parents.

If your child has one of these symptoms, they probably shouldn't go to day care today:

1. Fever

One of the clearest sign that your child should be kept home is if a temperature over 100.4° Fahrenheit is present, signaling a fever. Not only are fevers a sign of infection, it could also mean that your child could spread germs to their other children, explains pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing,

"There's just no way you can know whether things will get better or worse—and while giving them medicine might bring the fever down, it won't stop them from being contagious," she writes for Harvard Health. Experts and most schools agree that a child should be fever-free (without medication) for 24 hours before going back.

If your child is close but not quite at the fever point, it's always good to err on the side of caution and perhaps keep them at home in their cozy pjs.

2. Vomiting or diarrhea

It's not only messy, but vomiting or suffering from diarrhea is one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms of being sick and it's not fun for anyone—especially your child—if they go to day care with these symptoms. In fact, they will likely be sent home if they present these symptoms once at day care, which would be even harder to plan for.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families has clear guidelines for children suffering these symptoms to be removed from education settings as soon as possible. This is not only to care for the child but to prevent further spread of the illness in a group setting. This is also a symptom that could require a trip to the doctor to rule out a virus—especially the norovirus, which is highly contagious.

3. Incessant coughing

A few coughs here and there aren't too concerning but the coughs that simply keep persisting are the ones to watch out for. According to Stanford Children's Hospital "uncontrolled coughing" is a very good reason to keep your child home (and we agree).

There is a difference between a mild cough and a persistent cough and the latter is usually a sign of a more serious illness, especially if paired with a sore throat, irregular breathing or chest pain and these symptoms combined could warrant a trip to the family doctor.

4. Pain or sores

Pain level is a tough symptom to gauge since you can't feel your child's pain level. It's one thing to have a mild headache and some light body aches but anything worse makes it very hard for your child to concentrate or feel very good at day care. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to especially watch for abdominal pain that lasts more than two hours or intermittent abdominal pain associated with fever or other signs or symptoms.

But that's not the only kind of pain to watch for, the AAP notes. "Mouth sores with drooling that the child cannot control" or "skin sores that are weeping fluid and are on an exposed body surface that cannot be covered with a waterproof dressing" are all very good reasons to not only stay home but get your child to the doctor right away.

5. Constant crying that doesn't stop

Crying can be one of the hardest symptoms to decipher, especially in younger kids. Are they crying because they want to stay home or are they crying because they're feeling awful? Sometimes it's both. if your child is crying to the point that it would keep them from participating in activities at day care, you might want to keep them home and figure out why.

The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines point to keeping the child home if they "need more care than the staff can provide without a risk to the health and safety of other children" and if the illness "would keep the child from joining in activities." If a child is crying and can't be distracted by fun activities, staying home (and calling the doctor) is your best bet.

If at all in doubt, just trust your motherly gut. It did after all, get you this far.

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