5 Handy Tips for Surviving Your Baby's First Cold
A baby’s first cold is heartbreaking for new parents. Their sweet smiles and playful giggles are replaced by sniffles and fussiness. Babies are especially vulnerable to the common cold, partly because they're frequently around older children. In addition, they haven’t yet developed immunity to many common infections. While there’s not necessarily an average age of a baby’s first cold, most babies have six to eight colds within their first year of life. They may have even more if they're in childcare centers. The average cold lasts about two weeks. There are no drugs to make it go away sooner.
Most colds will eventually subside on their own and don’t necessarily require a trip to the pediatrician (though some symptoms do require immediate medical attention). In the meantime, you’ll want to make sure your baby is comfortable and help them recover as quickly as possible. Several home treatments can help alleviate symptoms. Here’s how to survive your baby’s first cold.
1. Monitor their fever with a reliable thermometer.
If you suspect your baby has a fever, take their temperature with a thermometer. Feeling their forehead or other parts of the body is not accurate. Temperature-sensitive tape or "fever strips" are also not reliable. If a baby’s first cold is 6 months or younger, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends avoiding the use of an ear thermometer, since their ear canals are too small at that age to allow an accurate reading. Only a rectal thermometer (placed less than 1 inch into your baby’s rectum) is recommended to accurately note a newborn’s temperature, though recent research has indicated that a temporal artery thermometer may also give accurate readings. Consult your doctor ahead of time about their recommendation.
- Infants younger than two months old who have a fever greater than 100.4°F need immediate medical attention, even if they appear well and show no other signs of being ill.
- If your baby is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature up to 102°F or higher and seems sick, contact your health care provider.
- For a baby who is 6 to 24 months old and has a temperature higher than 102°F that lasts more than 24 hours but shows no other signs or symptoms, contact your pediatrician.
- If your baby also has other signs of illness, such as a cold, cough, or diarrhea, consider contacting your doctor sooner based on the severity of symptoms.
- If your baby has a fever that lasts for more than three days, contact your pediatrician.
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2. Keep them hydrated.
Whether your baby’s first cold is 4 months or 4 years of age, they may not have much interest in eating or drinking when they’re not feeling well. Keeping them hydrated and nourished while they’re sick is essential. It helps thin out the mucus discharge from their nose and loosens any phlegm in the lungs, making it easier to cough up. Keeping them hydrated is even more important if your baby is vomiting, has diarrhea, or is running a fever. Offer extra formula or breastmilk more often when they’re ill.
3. Keep saline solution and suctioning devices on hand.
Saline (salt water) nose spray can help loosen dried mucus. Place one drop in each nostril. Wait a few seconds. The saline will begin to loosen thick, dried mucus and can help shrink inflamed nasal tissues. Then, use a bulb syringe or other nasal aspirator, like the Nosefrida, to gently remove discharge and mucus from each nostril.
Use saline drops as needed, but limit suctioning to no more than four times per day to avoid irritating delicate nasal tissue. Babies can’t drink from a bottle or nurse unless their nasal passages are open, so right before feedings may be a good time to suction.
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4. Know which medication is safe and the exact dosage.
To help ease your baby’s discomfort, you can administer acetaminophen (consult your pediatrician beforehand and confirm the exact dosage). Giving the wrong amount of medicine is one of the biggest problems parents have when giving acetaminophen to children. Use your baby’s weight to decide on the right amount to give. If you do not know your baby’s weight, use their age. Be sure to check with your child’s doctor to make sure you are giving the right amount. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises not giving acetaminophen to a baby younger than 12 weeks of age unless advised to do so by a pediatrician. *In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended liquid, chewable, and tablet forms of acetaminophen be made in just one strength. Since then, acetaminophen products have been standardized to one amount (160 milligrams [mg]). “Infant drops” are no longer available.
5. Have a good humidifier clean and ready to use.
Dry air worsens congestion, so run a humidifier in your baby's room during sleep. Alternatively, run a hot shower for 10 to 15 minutes with the bathroom door closed, then sit in the steamy room with your little one and allow the moistened air to help loosen congestion.
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When to Call the Doctor
If your baby's first cold is 3 months or younger, contact your pediatrician. For newborns, it’s essential to make sure a more severe illness or infection isn’t present, especially if one of those symptoms is a fever. Contact your pediatrician as soon as possible if your infant:
- soaks fewer than six to eight diapers per day with pale yellow urine
- is a newborn and has a temperature higher than 100.4°F
- is wheezing or has difficulty breathing
- has a persistent cough
- appears to have ear pain
- cries inconsolably or seems lethargic (has trouble waking to eat)
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