Treating a baby’s first cold can be stressful. How do you even know if your baby has a cold? Julie Reid, hospital pharmacist at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, Ont., says if your baby is less than three months old and has a fever, consult your doctor. Signs and symptoms of a cold may include a fever of 39°C (102°F) for a few days, a stuffy or runny nose with mucus changing from watery to yellow or green, and a cough. These symptoms may last five to 10 days. Julie says follow your instincts and provide tender loving care, comfort and lots of rest. Once it’s established that your baby simply has a pesky cold, here’s how these tools and techniques can help.
1. Nasal aspirator
You know how irritating a stuffy nose can be? Babies don’t know how to blow their nose, and therefore never have relief. Julie recommends using over-the-counter saline drops in the nose followed by a nasal aspirator to suction out the mucus. This will clear the nasal passages and loosen the drainage in the back of the throat.
To bring down a fever, children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) for babies four months or older or children’s ibuprofen (Advil) for babies six months or older is safe to use to provide some comfort. Julie says to be sure to consult your pharmacist about the right product and dosage. “Cough and cold products that contain decongestants, antihistamine, cough suppressants and expectorants are not recommended for children under six.” She also notes that you should never give babies and children acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), due to its link with Reye Syndrome, a disease that affects the brain and liver.
Use a humidifier or a cool-mist vaporizer to add moisture in bedrooms and living area to keep nasal passages moist, especially during dry winter months. This will help reduce nighttime coughing and stuffiness.
Julie suggests sitting with your baby in a steamy bathroom with the mist from a warm shower to help sooth coughing spasms. It’s sometimes helpful to counteract this with the window slightly open allowing cool air to come in. The steam helps to loosen and thin mucus within nasal passages and the back of the throat, allowing it to clear easily as you cuddle Baby in an upright position.
Coughs often seem to be worse at night when lying down. Lay a folded towel beneath one end of the mattress to raise your baby’s head slightly. (Not so high that Baby slides down the crib!) This may help drain the mucus in the right direction says Julie. Putting baby to sleep in a car seat temporarily (not for extended periods) may also ease breathing due to the slight incline.
Apply a bit of petroleum jelly around baby’s nostrils to ease irritation from wiping a runny nose.
7. Rest and hydration
“Like adults, babies need to be well hydrated when fighting a cold to prevent dehydration,” says Julie. “They will want to nurse more frequently when sick as they’re exhausted from interrupted sleep caused by their cold symptoms. Their feeding patterns are often off.” Julie says at four months, babies can have a little water and at six months, they can handle watered down juices. For babies under six months, breastmilk and formula are the best options. “Breastmilk contains antibodies that boost Baby’s immunity against colds and other illnesses. It’s important for mom to rest when baby rests and just as important for mom to eat well when baby is sick to pass on important nutrients to baby. Homemade chicken soup is easy to make and packed full of nutrients for mom,” says Julie.
When to visit the doctor
Pharmacist Julie Reid says that if your baby is active, playful and feeding/eating well, a trip to the doctor might not be necessary.
However, if your baby displays any of the following symptoms, a quick trip to the doc is in order.
- dehydration (look for no tears, dry mouth or dry diapers)
- a fever over 38.5°C (101°F) in a baby under three months of age
- difficulty breathing, wheezing or gasping
- grey or blue skin colour
- difficulty waking or is lethargic, combined with a fever
- worsening cough or cough that lasts for more than a week
- crying when sucking during a feed or pulling and rubbing from ear. This could be a sign of an ear infection.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2015. Photo by iStockphoto.