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Bug off Baby Care

Bug off

There are a lot of baby firsts that mamas look forward to, but coughs and sniffles aren’t one of them. Here’s what to do—and when to worry—if your wee one gets sick.

If we could examine the inner workings of the infant parent’s brain, we would first see that incomparable oxytocin rush and the euphoric love that comes with it. There would be a scattering, of course, of incomplete sentences and forgotten names—the fallout of sleep deprivation. And beyond that, we would find a complex web of worry and self-doubt.

As a new parent, you fret about everything from food allergies to sleep schedules. The early days with your newborn are magical, sure—but also so very frightening, especially when your little one goes from content and healthy to crying and hacking.

Worried sick
Most children make it through the first year without suffering a major illness; however, every infant will see at least one common cold. In fact, most will get 8-10 during the first two years of life because the infant immune system is still in the process of growing stronger. Usually these brief bugs, which by definition are viral infections of the nose and throat, are no cause for concern. But concern is bound to crop up when it’s your tot with the 102-degree fever.

What are typical symptoms of a cold in adults might seem exaggerated in a little baby. The fact that she can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong only makes matters worse. You don’t know if it’s the runny nose making her cry or something that she can’t verbalize.

When should you really worry? When should you see the doctor? And what can you do to help your child feel more comfortable in the meantime?

Ilene Moore, MD, a pediatrician and mother of twins from Minneapolis, says, “Infants are too young for most medications, especially those aimed at cold symptoms such as decongestants and cough suppressants. The best treatments at this age are what we call ‘supportive care,’ or supporting the natural immune system, so it can fight off the infection on its own.”

Most often, nasal congestion and a runny nose are the first signs of common cold in babies, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your little one has a stuffy nose, she could have trouble breathing, eating and sleeping. She obviously won’t know how to blow it herself, so help her out by wiping her nose or using a squirt of nasal saline and a bulb syringe. Another easy way to loosen congestion is to sit with baby in a steamy bathroom—just steer clear of any hot water.

As you’ve probably heard your doctor say again and again, what’s important right now is upping fluids and getting plenty of rest. The same is true for baby. Try to squeeze in extra feedings to keep her hydrated, and more frequent or longer naps can help her sleep through the discomfort.

How you respond is important, too. Keeping calm while caring for your babe’s bout with the cold is helpful for both you and your child. Babies feel our anxiety and thrive when they feel safe and secure. This is especially true in times of illness. It’s important to remind yourself—repeatedly if need be—that they call it the “common cold” for a reason. It happens often!

As you learn what soothes and comforts your sick (and likely tired) tot, you will begin to feel less anxious about the illness and more confident in your ability to handle the challenge. >>

Hot headed
A fever in an infant can be extremely frightening for mom—and confusing as well. At what temperature is it considered a fever? How high is too high? Do I treat the fever or let nature run its course? These are just a few of the questions likely to plague your frantic thoughts.

“Fever in infants younger than 3 months of age is a serious symptom,” says Shelly Vaziri Flais, MD, FAAP, instructor of clinical pediatrics with Northwestern University. “Families should have a rectal digital thermometer on hand, and if their child is not feeling well, [her] temperature should be taken.” According to Flais, a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever for newborns. For babies 3 months and older, a fever is anything higher than 101.

How do you treat it? For babies past the 3-month mark, Moore recommends treating the child over treating the thermometer reading. She says, “Many children can tolerate fevers of 102-103 degrees with minimal discomfort other than a little fatigue and the need for extra snuggles and fluids.” There are, however, some children who act very differently if their temperature rises above 100 degrees. Your course of action should depend on your baby’s needs.

Moore suggests that unless the baby is very uncomfortable, a parent should consider letting the immune system fight the infection naturally, as fever is the body’s instinctive response to infection or inflammation.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can bring down a fever and help your baby get some much-needed rest. If your child is older than 3 months, acetaminophen (children’s Tylenol) can be used at age- appropriate doses. (Dosing guidelines can be confusing, so check with your pediatrician if you have any questions.) Once a child is 6 months old, ibuprofen (children’s Motrin or Advil) can be used. Moore assures that until a fever reaches 105 degrees or higher—a rarity—it is generally, in itself, not harmful, but rather a symptom of a greater, usually nonthreatening, problem.

Doctor’s orders
For many parents, the baby-bug anxiety comes from wondering if and when they should call the doctor or visit the ER. Flais’ advice: “In any child, difficulty breathing, poor feeding or excessive sleepiness merits checking in with the pediatrician.” She goes on to explain that the smaller a child is, the more quickly she can become dehydrated.

A cold in babies younger than 3 months can rapidly progress to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia or croup, so if your little one is a recent arrival, you should give doc a call as soon as symptoms flare up. For older tots, talk to your health care provider if you notice a lack of improvement after five days—or worsening symptoms, such as a high fever, ear pain, green or yellow mucous, trouble breathing and signs of dehydration (i.e., a drop in the number of feedings or wet diapers).

Above all, trust your gut. You know your baby best. If anything seems off or unusual, go ahead and give your doctor a ring. It never hurts to call, and most pediatricians are accustomed to fielding the questions of concerned parents.

During cold and flu season, when your baby is most likely to be sick, it is best to avoid the emergency room if possible. The cold air and the long wait (often during late night hours) will do little for your child’s recovery, not to mention the extra germs!

Additionally, it is best to consult a physician specifically trained to diagnose and treat infants and children. “There will be less chance of overtreating with anti-biotics and a greater chance that you will get advice that is helpful and appropriate if you see a pediatrician,” Moore says.

Of course, the emergency room is appropriate in a life-threatening situation. In an infant, this includes respiratory distress, dehydration and trauma. Again, trust your mama instincts.

Babies get sick, and there’s no cure for the cold. These are facts of life, albeit unfortunate ones. So when you hear a sniffle coming from your wee one’s direction, try to relax and remind yourself that coughing and a runny nose are usually just that—a little cold. The best thing you can do for your babe is make her comfortable and keep a watchful eye on her symptoms. P&N

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