It’s no secret that the winter months are tougher on babies and toddlers than the summer ones. Being trapped indoors allows for the rapid spread of all kinds of germs and leads to the never-ending snot, fever, cough combination that seems to plague the cold months. After last winter’s ear infection/bronchiolitis/sinus infection horror show, my husband and I were anxious to find ways to keep our son (and ourselves) healthier this winter, which is why I was so glad when Dr. Jack Maypole reached out to me for tips to do that very thing.
As a pediatrician and a parent, Dr. Maypole is no stranger to the incessant illnesses each winter. He says that “infants and toddlers in school settings suffer viral illnesses upwards of 8 to 12 times a year — mostly in the colder months.” With a toddler in daycare, that is pretty accurate. And miserable. So how can parents help reduce or prevent this? Dr. Maypole has 5 recommendations that may help keep you and your toddler healthy this flu season.
1. Be vigilant and communicate
This is Dr. Maypole’s first recommendation and I couldn’t agree more. Keeping an open dialogue with teachers and daycare providers about what’s going around and whether it’s time to keep a child home to help prevent them from getting ill is critical. I know that we always call our daycare when our son is ill, even if he’s not missing a day, just so they’re aware and can keep an eye out if it’s something likely to spread. This was especially helpful in November when our son was patient zero for a stomach virus that took down two or three other toddlers. (We felt terrible!) Keeping teachers and daycares informed and, in turn, asking what to watch for in your child can help keep everyone healthier.
2. Keep your child home when they have serious symptoms
While annoying, most regular cold symptoms, like a cough and runny nose, are OK for school and daycare. However, Dr. Maypole points out that there are other cases where staying home is very important. He says that “more severe symptoms — such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea — may require that a child stay home until the symptoms have resolved for 24 hours (or unless cleared by their health provider).” He says that if a parent is unsure about when to keep a child home or send to school that they should “call and run their questions by their child’s primary care provider.” And let me just add that sending your child to daycare with Motrin to mask a fever is just about the worst way to keep everyone healthy. I’m looking at you, daycare mom from last month.
3. Control the spread at home
Since we all know that toddlers are just about the worst at maintaining any level of personal space, when a sibling or parent is sick, it’s not easy to keep others healthy. Dr. Maypole gives some very reasonable and simple advice. He says, “if there is a household member laid low by illness, try to give them the benefit of quarantine, isolating them (but still attending to them!), keeping their toys or items separate from where others may roam.” An added benefit to this concept is that if it’s a man cold that you’re trying to keep contained, you don’t have to hear the whining (as much) if you quarantine!
4. Got hands? Wash ’em.
As much as we all love wipes and antibacterial gels, the research tells us that washing hands throughout the day is the best way to reduce the spread of illness within a home. Dr. Maypole suggests that kids should wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” Plus, who doesn’t love a little singing with their hygiene?
5. Get your flu shot
Dr. Maypole emphasizes that “all parents should consider getting a flu shot for all eligible members of their families.” He told me that since 2010, the United States has recommended that everyone over 6 months of age should get a flu shot. I’ve heard from a number of people about how mild the flu is and I can only imagine that those people have never had it. As someone who has had it too many times, let me just say that the flu is serious and seriously unpleasant. As Dr. Maypole points out, it is “particularly nasty or dangerous in younger children or anyone with a complex or chronic illness (including diabetes, asthma, neurological problems or former premature infants). Flu infections cause up to 20,000 hospitalizations in children under 5 each year.” That isn’t a small number and it’s a pretty serious matter. The best news is that the flu shot can now be administered to children with mild egg allergies (which is why I haven’t gotten one until this year!). Dr. Maypole suggests that if you need more information, you should check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their flu guide and speak with your child’s primary care provider.
I want to conclude with Dr. Maypole’s closing advice because I think he sums it up better than I can.
“And so then, pass the tissues. Make ready cozy beds and soup. Follow the above ideas and partner with your child’s school to keep watch on your child’s well-being. At times like this, sometimes I find the haiku is a nice way to underscore it:
Flu starts in kids first
Babies and sick kids at risk
Get the shot. Wash hands! ”
Thanks to Dr. Maypole for his entirely reasonable advice and information on how to keep toddlers and infants healthy as flu season begins to peak. I know this advice is definitely helping to keep our family healthier this year!
Cartoon courtesy of Dr. Jack Maypole.