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Baby Colds - Symptoms, treatment, and when to call the doctor

Even during your baby’s first year of life, she isn’t immune to an inconvenience that affects all of us, young or old – the common cold. Because of your infant’s developing immune system, it’s likely that he’ll catch about 4-10 colds before his first birthday. Though there’s no one way to prevent colds, here’s how you can identify the signs and know when it’s best to call a doctor.

How can your baby catch a cold?

  • Babies may be more vulnerable to colds during winter when indoor heating dries nasal passages.
  • Your baby can contract a cold by coming into contact with someone carrying a cold virus, such as older siblings or their playmates, or by putting toys that have been played with by other children who could be carrying a cold virus into his mouth.

Signs that your baby might have a cold

  • Sneezing, coughing, irritated or watery eyes
  • Congestion
  • Clear nasal discharge that gradually thickens or turns green over a few days
  • A low-grade fever (not exceeding 101 ºF) during the first 48 hours that symptoms occur

Treatment

  • Keep your baby’s nasal passage as clear as possible, wiping away visible mucous. If you’re wiping your baby’s nose frequently, make sure to moisturize the nostril area to prevent soreness.
  • Ask your doctor about saline solutions or use a syringe to suction out the mucous.
  • Provide fluids, which will thin the mucus in your baby’s nasal passage (consult Babble’s feeding guide for general recommendations for your baby’s daily liquids). Doctors don’t recommend giving water to babies younger than 6 months, but after that, some sips of water in addition to your baby’s regular breast milk or formula diet can help her stay hydrated. If you are still breastfeeding, continue to do so (remember breast milk gives your baby’s immune system a boost).
  • Keep your baby in a warm, humid environment. You can use a humidifier in her room or sit with her in the bathroom with the hot water running. The steamy atmosphere can help clear nasal passages.
  • If your baby is congested or coughing, tilt her mattress slightly so her head is elevated during naps and nighttime. Make sure to do this under the mattress (by stacking a few blankets, for example), because extra pillows inside the crib are not safe for babies.

Should I call a doctor?

Contact your medical professional if you have any concerns about the health of your child, but here are a few signs that should steer you towards the doctor’s office:

  • Cold symptoms that persist longer than a week
  • A temperature over 100.4ºF when your baby is younger than 3 months, 101ºF when he’s 3-6 months of age, or 103ºF for 6+ months.
  • Pulling at ears, which can indicate an ear infection
  • Wheezing or gasping for air

In general, doctors recommend holding off on pain relievers like infant ibuprofen or acetaminophen unless your baby is running a fever or her symptoms are really causing a lot of discomfort (if you were to give pain medication every time your baby was slightly ill, you could end up overusing it). Talk to your doctor about when and how to administer pain relievers or fever reducers, so that you know the guidelines for your baby.

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