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Month 3 Worry: What to Do About Infant Cold Symptoms

You have dutifully avoided sick kids at playgroup, you have consented to immunizations, and you might as well have stock in Purell. And still your infant has his first head cold. With a stuffy nose, it seems your baby can’t move air through his little nose. He coughs, he’s feeding less well, and he’s not sleeping as well as he had been. Help!

What’s the Issue?

The truth of the matter is that your infant’s first viral infection is inevitable. And it’s not your fault. The common cold is caused by multiple viruses. These viruses are too small to be seen, even with a microscope. They are hearty, they usually cause non-serious illnesses, and they are quite easily passed from one person to another. If you’re a child in daycare, if you have older siblings, or if you make an even occasional trip to the supermarket—you are exposed.

Consider the Numbers

Infants have at least one viral infection per month during their first year. And if your child is in daycare, that average rate doubles. Fortunately, though, few of these infections require medical intervention.

What Parents Can Do

As parents, our job is to meet our infants’ needs. With the run-of-the-mill cold virus, sometimes doing less is better with easy cold and flu remedies. Medications for young infants that are safe and effective for cold symptoms are … well … infant Tylenol. There are no decongestants, expectorants, cough suppressants, or magic potions that work in infants. It makes life simple, but frustrating.

One of the most important things you can do to minimize your infant’s exposure is to simply wash your hands. Washing with soap and water for three minutes (or Purell for 15 seconds) works extremely well to kill most viruses and bacteria. Remember that the active ingredient in Purell or other hand sanitizers is alcohol. Like bleach, it’s good to clean with but is not great for a child to drink—so minimize your baby’s oral exposure to all cleaning products. And minimize your infant’s exposure to lots of people, within reason.

What the Docs May Do

Most doctors will recommend nasal saline drops; humidified air; nasal suction; and smaller, more frequent feeds during times of viral illness. If your infant is especially fussy (and is older than two months), Tylenol is OK as a pain reliever.

Call your doctor if your child is breathing rapidly (over 60 breaths per minute), is not urinating more than once every six hours, or just is inconsolably fussy. These might be the early signs of bronchiolitis, dehydration, or bacterial infection, respectively. Babies under the age of two months require a call to your clinician for any temperature over 100.5. Fever in this vulnerable age group can be a sign of significant bacterial infection and requires prompt medical evaluation.

More 3rd Month Health Help

Even the most confident parent has concerns about her child’s health and wellness from time to time. (If you have any pressing concerns or questions about your baby’s health, please check with her healthcare provider.)

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