baby with a cold (2)

How Can I Help My Baby With a Cold?

Little noses get a lot of colds. Babies can catch eight or more during their first year alone. 

Though these sniffles and sneezes in babies are rarely severe, they’re tough on parents, too — and one of the biggest reasons for pediatrician visits.

 When you know how to help your child feel better and call the doctor, you can feel more confident until the cold is over. 

All babies are born with some immunity to illness. Even so, it takes time for their brand new immune systems to fully mature. This makes babies susceptible to viral infections, which cause colds.

There are over 200 types of viruses that can cause colds. Luckily, most of the colds your baby gets will help increase their immunity. Even so, their very first cold can be scary for parents.

A baby can catch a cold at any age or time of year. They may get as many as 8 to 10 a year in their first two years. If your little one is around older children, their chances of getting colds may increase.

Common colds in newborns aren’t dangerous, but they can quickly escalate into conditions, such as pneumonia or croup. Any illness in a baby under 2 or 3 months old is a reason to call their pediatrician, especially if they’re running a fever.

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Causes

Babies get so many colds because their immune system isn’t yet ready to fight off the 100 or so viruses that cause these infections. 

The cold virus spreads through the air when someone who’s sick coughs or sneezes. It also lands on surfaces such as toys and tables. 

When babies touch these surfaces and then put their hands in their mouths — which they do a lot — they give the cold virus an easy entry route.

Babies often pick up colds at daycare. Or they can catch it from older brothers and sisters who bring the virus home from school — or from grown-ups who shook hands with someone who should have stayed home from work.

Another name for a common cold is a viral upper respiratory infection. They aren’t caused by bacterial infections and don’t respond to antibiotics.

Your baby’s pediatrician may take a blood test, urine test, or an eye or skin swab to determine if your baby’s illness is viral or bacterial. 

Bacterial infections sometimes develop as complications from viral infections. They can also cause illnesses, such as:

  • pneumonia
  • sore throat
  • ear infections

Colds in newborns aren’t unusual. The viruses which cause them can live in the air and on hard surfaces for short periods. 

That makes it possible for the transmission to occur with or without direct contact with someone who’s sick.

Babies who are around older children may be more likely to get colds. But even a trip to the pediatrician’s office, a cuddle with a loving adult, or a stroll to the store can expose your baby to germs.

Breastfed babies have more immunity than babies exclusively fed formula. This is because breastfeeding supplies antibodies, white blood cells, and enzymes to your baby. These agents safeguard them from infection.

Breastfed babies have all, or part, of their mother’s immunity to the illnesses she has had or been exposed to. This doesn’t, however, mean breastfed babies are entirely immune from colds.

Symptoms of Colds in Newborns

A stuffed or runny nose may be your first clue that your newborn has caught a cold. Their nasal discharge may start thin and transparent but turn thicker and yellowish-green in colour over several days. This is normal and doesn’t mean your baby’s cold is getting worse.

Other symptoms include:

  • fussiness
  • fever
  • coughing, especially at night
  • sneezing
  • reduced appetite
  • difficulty breastfeeding or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion
  • trouble falling or staying asleep

Colds in newborns have some of the same symptoms as other illnesses, such as the flu, croup, and pneumonia. This can make the diagnosis at home more stressful for parents.

Flu

If your newborn has the flu, it may have chills, vomiting, and diarrhea in addition to common cold symptoms. They may also have symptoms you can’t see and that they can’t tell you about, including headache, muscle or body aches, or sore throat.

Pneumonia

A cold can advance to pneumonia quickly. Symptoms include:

  • shakes
  • chills
  • flushed skin
  • sweating
  • high fever
  • abdominal pain or sensitivity
  • worsening cough
  • rapid breathing or difficulty breathing

Your baby may also develop a bluish tint to the lips or finger beds. This means your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen and should be taken to a hospital immediately.

Croup

If your baby’s cold escalates to croup, they may have difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and a barking cough. They may also make squeaky breathing sounds that sound like wheezing.

RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a severe cause of respiratory infection that can affect people of all ages. But it is tough for babies because their airways are not fully developed.

Bronchiolitis

Babies are frequently hospitalised with bronchiolitis, an inflammatory respiratory condition that affects the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchioles). It’s the most common cause of hospitalisation in newborns. In addition, RSV often causes viral bronchiolitis.

Diagnosis

If your baby is younger than three months of age, call their doctor early in the illness. 

In newborns, it’s essential to make sure that a more severe illness isn’t present, especially if your baby has a fever.

In general, you don’t need to see the doctor if your older baby has a common cold. However, if you have questions or your baby’s symptoms worsen or don’t go away, it might be time to see the doctor.

Your baby’s doctor can generally diagnose a common cold by your baby’s signs and symptoms. 

If your doctor suspects your baby has a bacterial infection or other condition, they may order a chest X-ray or other tests to exclude other causes of your baby’s symptoms.

Treatment

Colds don’t need to be treated. They usually go away on their own after a few days. Antibiotics won’t work because they kill bacteria, and in this case, viruses are to blame.

You’ll naturally want to calm your baby’s symptoms. But don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to infants and toddlers. 

These products don’t work well in kids under six years, and they can cause dangerous side effects in young children. Therefore, the FDA advises against using them at all in children younger than 4.

To bring down a fever and make your child more comfortable, you can use acetaminophen (children’s Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Children’s Motrin or Advil) if they’re over six months old. Would you please read the package to ensure you give the correct dose for their weight and age?

Never give a child any medicine that contains aspirin. It can raise the risk for a rare but serious disease called Reye’s syndrome.

To help your little one feel better, let them get lots of rest and try one of these home remedies:

Extra Fluids. 

Nurse your infant more often. In babies over six months, you can also give water and 100% fruit juice. The added fluid will prevent dehydration and keep your child’s nose and mouth moist.

Spray Saline and Suck Out Mucus. 

If your baby has trouble breathing through a stuffy nose, spray a few drops of saline (saltwater) solution into each nostril to loosen the mucus. 

Then use a bulb syringe to remove the mucus. Squeeze the bulb and then place the tip into your child’s nostril. 

Release the bulb to suction out the mucus gently. Wash the tip of the syringe with soap and water after each use. If you make your saline solution, use distilled water or boiled tap water.

Turn on a Humidifier. 

A cool-mist humidifier will add moisture to the air and keep your baby’s nose from drying out. Wash out the machine after each use to prevent bacteria and mould build up.

Other Treatments for Colds

There are no other treatments for an infant’s cold except the passage of time. The best thing you can do is make sure that you or another caring adult stays close by to provide comfort. This will help your baby relax and get the rest they need.

baby with a cold

Treating the Cold at Home

Home treatment for a newborn’s cold consists of helping them feel comfortable. Do’s and don’ts include:

Do’s

  • Give plenty of liquids, including breast milk or formula (if your baby doesn’t take breast milk). A small amount of water may be offered to your baby if they’re over six months old.
  • Suction out nasal mucus using saline drops and a suction bulb.
  • Moisturise the air with a humidifier. Ask your doctor if they recommend a warm or cool mist type. Warm humidifiers may pose a burning risk to older, curious children.

Don’ts

  • Antibiotics don’t work on viruses and shouldn’t be given as treatment for a cold.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducers, including Infants’ Tylenol, aren’t recommended for babies under three months unless directed by your baby’s doctor. Check with your pediatrician before giving any OTC medication to a baby under one year. These medications may also not be recommended for a baby who’s vomiting.
  • Aspirin should never be given to a baby or child.
  • Cough and cold medications aren’t recommended for children under two years.
  • Vapour rubs, even those formulated for babies, can be irritating to the airways. Don’t use these either on the skin or in a vaporiser.
  • Don’t let your baby sleep on their stomach, even if they have congestion.

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How Long Do Colds Last for Newborns?

The average cold may last as long as 9 or 10 days. 

This includes the period when babies don’t display many symptoms but are contagious, as well as the period when they’re starting to act normally but still have crusty noses and nasal discharge.

Tips for Prevention

Breastfeeding your baby can help boost their immunity. However, even small amounts of breast milk supplemented with formula can help. 

This is especially true of antibody-rich colostrum, the first type of breast milk you produce when your baby is born.

You can’t keep your baby in a hermetically sealed environment. But you can help avoid exposure to some germs:

  • Wash your hands often and ask visitors to do the same.
  • Avoid contact with people who are ill, and wipe down surfaces that have been touched by people who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Ask people who contact your baby to cough or sneeze into their elbows rather than into their hands.
  • If possible, limit your baby’s contact with older children.
  • Ensure the adults and children around your newborn are currently on their pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine and flu shots.

Natural Ways to Treat Your Baby’s Cold

Give Plenty of Fluids

This thins mucus, and that can help with a stuffy nose. It also keeps them from getting dehydrated. Offer your baby breast milk or formula often.

Don’t give them sodas or juices — they’re high in sugar. How can you tell if they are sipping enough? Check that their urine is light in colour. If it’s dark, encourage them to drink more.

Suction Out the Snot

Your baby is stuffed up, but they can’t blow their nose yet. A bulb syringe can clear out the mucus. 

To use it, squeeze the bulb and put about a quarter- to a half-inch of the syringe into one nostril. 

Let go of the bulb to create a suction. Take out the syringe, and squeeze the bulb to put the mucus into a tissue. 

Wash the syringe with soap and water after using it. You can also use a nasal aspirator — an electric version.

Use Saline Drops

A nasal rinse can help ease your baby’s congestion because it loosens the thick mucus that’s clogging their nose. 

Look for over-the-counter saline drops or sprays, or make your own: Stir a half-teaspoon of table salt into a cup of warm water. 

Lay your little one on their back, and use a dropper to put two or three drops into each nostril. Wipe away any mucus, or use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to suction it out.

Prop up Their Bed

To help your baby sleep better at night, raise the head of their bed. This puts gravity on their side and helps drain the mucus so that they can breathe easier. 

You can put a few books or a rolled-up towel under the mattress to lift one side a few inches. Never use pillows to prop them up — they raise the chance of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Encourage Rest

Sleep is critical for a healthy immune system. In addition, it can help your baby fight off that cold virus. 

To help them get a good night’s rest, clear out the mucus with saline drops and a bulb syringe before naps and at bedtime. 

And give them lots of cuddles. Your touch may ease the discomfort and help them feel more relaxed.

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When to Call the Doctor

You don’t need to call a doctor for a cold if your baby is over three months old. However, in younger infants, make the call when symptoms start — especially if your baby has a fever. 

Cold-like symptoms might signal a more severe illness, such as pneumonia or an ear infection. You’ll feel better if you check on it.

No matter what your child’s age, call the doctor if you notice any of these more severe symptoms:

  • Fever of 102 F or higher
  • Trouble breathing
  • I do not want to eat or drink.
  • Signs of dehydration, such as no tears or fewer wet diapers than usual
  • Unusual sleepiness

Also, call if your baby doesn’t get better after a week or so or if the symptoms worsen.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you need to see your baby’s pediatrician or family doctor, here’s some information to help you get ready for your baby’s appointment.

What you can do

Make a list of:

  • Symptoms you’ve noticed in your baby, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Critical personal information, such as whether your baby goes to child care or has otherwise been exposed to someone with a common cold. Include how many colds your baby has had, how long they lasted and whether your baby is exposed to secondhand smoke. It might help to make a note on your calendar the day you realise your baby has a cold.
  • All medications, vitamins or supplements your baby is taking, including dosages.

Questions to ask your doctor.

For a common cold, some questions to ask the doctor include:

  • What is likely causing my baby’s symptoms?
  • Are there other possible causes?
  • What tests are needed?
  • What’s the best course of action?
  • My baby has other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there restrictions we need to follow?
  • Are there over-the-counter medications that aren’t safe for my child at this age?

Don’t hesitate to ask other questions you have.

What to Expect from Your Doctor

Your baby’s doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:

  • When did your baby’s symptoms begin?
  • Have they been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are they?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve them?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen them?
  • Has the nasal congestion caused your baby to eat or drink less?
  • Does your baby have as many wet diapers as usual?
  • Has there been a fever? If so, how high?
  • Are your child’s vaccinations up to date?
  • Has your child taken antibiotics recently?

Your doctor will ask additional questions based on your responses and your baby’s symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time with the doctor.

Takeaway

Colds are caused by viruses and are common in newborns. Even breastfed babies get chills, although their immunity is more significant than babies who aren’t breastfed.

Colds aren’t severe, but they can turn into more severe illnesses. It’s essential to have your pediatrician look at your baby if they have a cold and are under 2 or 3 months old — especially if they’re running a high fever or have other symptoms.

Don’t hesitate to make this phone call! Your baby’s doctor will be happy to help rule out more severe conditions and put your mind at ease.

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