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Dealing With A Baby’s First Cold

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With the “sick season” upon us, I’m starting to see more babies with cold symptoms and their concerned parents wondering “what can I do to help their precious bundle of joy?”imagesIn pediatrics, we often say “children are not little adults” but in the case of the common cold, they really are. They have the same symptoms, runny nose, red-rimmed eyes, cough and they just FEEL YUCKY! With those symptoms most babies are fussier than usual and don’t sleep well at night, which is just like an adult with a cold (or maybe just me). One of the main differences is that an adult cannot wake up off and on all night and have someone really “care” that you can’t sleep because you are so congested, or your throat hurts. As much as your spouse loves you, the most common response is “just deal with it” and go back to sleep. Not so for an infant, they are usually up and down all night, don’t feed as well, and just want to be held a little more. We the parents are also up and down with the baby with a cold and so it goes as a parent.

When an infant get’s a cold it is not uncommon for them to run a fever along with the cold symptoms. This usually only lasts a day or two and then resolves, but the other common cold symptoms may last from seven to 10 days. The first several days of a cold usually begin with a runny or congested nose and a cough. With a cold they may not want to nurse or drink their bottle as well as they have a hard time breathing and sucking. These leads to a cranky baby, who may take less with each feeding, but will need to eat more often.

It is important to make sure that they stay hydrated. Contrary to popular myth, drinking formula or breast milk does not make a cold worse, and fluids are the most important thing. If your baby is having difficulty taking the bottle or latching on due to the congestion, you may use the “bulb syringe” that is sent home with the baby after birth. Place the tip of the bulb syringe inside the baby’s nostril to remove mucous and help them breath and eat. You may also use a little salt water nose drops to squirt up their nose to help the mucous come out.

It also helps to get a cool mist humidifier to place in the room at night to help put some moisture in the air while the heat is running and the air is dry. The cool mist will also help alleviate some of the thicker mucous and also help the cough that accompanies the cold.

The most important thing to watch for is any sign of respiratory distress. A child’s breathing may “sound noisy” but it is important once again to look at their chest to make sure that they are not using those muscles between the ribs and “pulling” when they are breathing. They may also have a congested cough and it can sound “junky” but they should still not be showing any signs of difficulty with breathing. Coughs are also protective in that they help move mucous and keep the airway clear to prevent pneumonia.

Lastly, your child should look a little better after the first several days of their cold. They should not develop fever later in the cold, and if they do it would be worth a pediatrician visit to check their ears. Not every baby with a cold gets and ear infection and they usually develop after they have had several days of cold symptoms, and not on the first day of a cold. The only way to diagnose an ear infection is for the doctor to visualize your child’s eardrum, even with email, and phones, you just can’t get a picture down the ear canal!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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