The common cold
With any luck, your baby won’t have to battle more than a little sneezing and coughing, the effects of a common cold. The common cold is essentially a viral respiratory tract infection, characterized by a runny nose with clear mucus that thickens and turns yellow, green or grey; a mild cough; or unusual tiredness or irritability.
Cold symptoms generally last for 72 hours or so, and then begin to improve over the next five to seven days. If cold symptoms linger for more than 10 days, or continue to get worse after three days, you should call your pediatrician.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus
It’s possible for what begins as a cold to turn into something more serious. (This is especially true for high-risk babies, such as preemies, young infants and babies with heart or lung conditions.) Particularly in children under the age of two, a common cold can sometimes lead to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Some common symptoms of RSV are:
Labored or quick breathing (60+ breaths/minute)
Thick nasal discharge that is yellow, green or grey
RSV is not always a serious infection, but it can be—so it warrants a visit to the pediatrician’s office. Without proper attention, it can easily develop into pneumonia or bronchitis. For more information visit www.rsvprotection.com.
Since colds and RSV are both viruses, an antibiotic won’t help; for the most part, you just have to let them run their course. But the lack of a magic cure doesn’t mean you’re entirely helpless! There are a few things you can do to help your baby feel better and heal faster:
Allow your baby to get plenty of rest. Encouraging extra naps with plenty of rocking, soothing songs and quiet time will prevent your baby from being too exhausted and cranky to get comfortable.
Make sure your baby is consuming enough liquids to flush the viruses out of her system. This can be tricky, since congested, fussy babies aren’t always interested in drinking. (With their nose and mouth plugged, breathing is next to impossible!) Try squirting a few drops of saline solution into each of your baby’s nostrils, and then use a bulb syringe to suction out the liquid. Doing so will help open your baby’s nasal passages (at least temporarily), making breathing while eating more feasible.
Use a humidifier or vaporizer to relieve some of your little one’s congestion. (You can also run a hot shower to create a steamy bathroom for a similar effect.) Adding menthol, eucalyptus or pine oil to the humidifier or vaporizer can help, too.
Let your little angel sleep at a slight incline in her carseat or bouncer. Since newborns breathe almost exclusively through their nose, breathing while lying down can be difficult. Letting her sleep with her head raised encourages her poor little stuffed up nose to drain, rather than continue to clog further. Remember though, it is never a good idea to use a pillow to prop up your baby’s head, as doing so could unintentionally result in suffocation.
A little effort can go a long way! While you surely can’t prevent your child from ever getting sick, you can do your best to make sure it happens as infrequently as possible. Here’s what you can do to keep those tiny noses from running:
Wash your hands, as well as your baby’s. (Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which can be just as effective as the more traditional soap and warm water method.) A good scrub of the fronts and backs of your hands, wrists, fingers and fingernails will wash away any potential achoo!-inducing germs. And since your baby’s pudgy little fingers often find their way into her mouth, be sure to wash or sanitize them regularly, too.
Keep your baby away from any older siblings who have a cold or RSV until they are no longer contagious, usually three to seven days. Sharing toys is laudable; sharing viruses, not so much.
If possible, steer clear of childcare centers during cold season. Because the number of children at these facilities is great, so too is the number of germs to which little Miss Susie will be exposed.
Ensure that your baby stays hydrated. Consuming plenty of liquid will help keep the nasal cavities slimy and sticky (a pretty picture, huh?) so that they can catch and detain any unwanted germs before they infect your little one.