By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center
We may be having an oddly mild fall season so far, but while the nice weather makes being outdoors enjoyable, the measly common cold is keeping more than a handful of people in bed on the last few nice days of the year. It may not feel like it, but we are officially in cold season, and the worst part of cold season is the dreaded baby cold; though I admit I may be biased there.
The cold does not discriminate, not even when it comes to your helpless little baby. Unfortunately, despite how hard you try to keep them covered up when there is the slightest hint of cold air, keep them away from friends and family who so much as sneeze, and follow them around constantly to make sure they do not put their hands in their mouths, babies are still the most susceptible to colds due to their immature immune systems and natural curiosity which tempts them to touch, explore, and try to eat everything within reach. It is pretty much inevitable, and yes, even the most bubble protected babies can get the cold.
The cold is no fun for anyone, but it can be especially tough on kids who have not learned how to blow their noses and clear their throats. My son’s first cold was just the slightest sniffle and stuffy nose, and although it did not seem to bother him much, my experience trying to clear his nose last winter was a pretty good indication that I would be in for some tough days and nights if he caught a cold this year. Sure enough, just as the weather started to change and it felt like everyone around us was getting sick, so did he. The little bit of sneezing and coughing were not terrible, but hearing a stuffy nose struggling to breathe, coupled with chest congestion from excess saliva due to teething, kept me up all night trying to figure out ways to help him feel better. Because colds are caused by viruses, medicine typically will not help a baby get over a cold more quickly, but there are things you can do to help your little one feel better while the cold runs its course.
Things to try when…
- Baby is stuffy. –
- Nose blowing is a skill that can take a while to understand and master, so your best bet can be to try using suction to clear it out. The old-school syringe bulbs they give at the hospital can work very well, especially when used with some saline drops to help loosen the mucus a bit. Although there were times my son would happily let me suction his nose, there were others when he would throw a full blown tantrum resulting in tears that made his stuffy nose even worse. My biggest tip for when baby is not at all happy to get his nose cleared is to distract him by any means necessary before attempting to suction, or waiting until he has calmed down and try again a little later.
- Using a cool mist air humidifier or taking the baby into the bathroom with you while you run hot water and get it nice and steamy can also be very helpful to loosen up the mucus and ease congestion.
- Baby cannot sleep –
- It can be tempting to let a baby sleep propped up on pillows or in a car seat to help ease his breathing, but it can also be dangerous due to the risk of suffocation. I compromised by laying my son to sleep tummy down on my chest during his daytime and evening naps when possible and suctioning his nose every night before bed even if he did not sound too stuffy. I always made sure I was alert whenever I let him nap on my chest, as it could also have been dangerous if I were to fall asleep while he was still laying on me. If you have a baby who can still comfortably sleep in a sling, carrying him around while he naps keeps him at a slight angle to ease his congestion and keep him extra warm.
- A warm bath before bed is always relaxing, but a warm bath when baby has a cold plays double duty as the gentle steam helps clear nasal and chest congestion.
- There are a lot of questions and conflicting information regarding the safety of essential oil use around children. For that reason, I would not recommend diffusing them or applying them to a child’s skin without consulting a pediatrician. However, through personal experience, I know just how much some aromas can help with relaxation and decongestion. To be on the safe side, you can try tying a sachet of dried, crushed lavender or spearmint near a child’s bed, but out of their reach, for a gentle alternative to essential oils.
- Baby has a cough –
- The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of over-the-counter cough or cold medicine for babies and young children, stating that there is little benefit to using over-the-counter medications and that they can increase the chance of accidental overdoses when combined with other medications. Appropriate doses of single ingredient acetaminophen or ibuprofen, based on a child’s weight, can be used to treat fevers, aches and pains.
- A sore throat from a cough can affect a baby’s desire to eat, but it is important to make sure he stays hydrated by offering plenty of milk throughout the day. If your baby has started eating solids or table food, offer him soothing options like chicken broth, applesauce or pudding until he feels ready to go back to his normal diet.
Colds are very common and can happen to anyone, regardless of how many preventative measures you take, and most do not require a visit to the pediatrician’s office. In fact, my son’s pediatrician recommended not taking him in for a doctor’s visit if he only had a slight cold due to the risk of him catching more viruses from other children in the waiting area. However, you should call your doctor if you child has any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Is younger than 3 months of age
- Wheezing, fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Not eating or drinking
- Gray or blue skin color
- High fever or persistent fever (more than 24 hours in children under 2, or more than 72 hours in children over the age of 2)
- Ongoing cough or wet sounding cough
How do you comfort your child when he/she is sick?