Your Baby Has a Cold -- What Should You Do?

by Bridgette R. Odom

Babies and ColdsYour baby woke up to sneezes, coughs and and has a nose that runs like a faucet. It's the dreaded first cold!

"My baby has a cold. His poor little eyes turned red and watery. His nose runs. Breaks my heart to see him like this! But what can you do?" asks Jennifer.

Babies seem to catch colds very easily, so easily that most will have at least seven bouts during their first year. The sniffles and runny noses might be common but they still worry parents.

The Common Cold

Colds pass from person to person via cough- and sneeze-propelled droplets, coughing and contact with objects infected people have touched.

Kids are most contagious from a day before you notice symptoms to seven days after they begin. That explains why your baby managed to pick up a cold from a group of preschoolers who seemed the picture of perfect health!

An adult's cold usually last 5 to 7 days. Babies' colds tend to linger a little longer. That can be bad news if your child's waking up every hour, protesting a clogged up nose.

Baby's first sign of the common cold is often a stuffy or runny nose and nasal discharge. It may be clear at first, but usually turns shades of yellow or green.

Other signs of a common cold often include a low-grade fever, sneezing, coughing, decreased appetite, grumpiness and disrupted sleep.

When to Call the Doctor

Newborns: If your baby is younger than two to three months old, call the doctor right away. In newborns, a common cold can quickly develop into another serious illness.

3 months and older: Your baby's smiling, active, doesn't have a fever and otherwise seems well (except the runny nose and congestion). You're concerned because you've hit the seven-day mark. Edward A Kulich, MD FAAP, who runs a 24/7 pediatric house call practice in New York City says to give it another four to seven days and you will likely see the symptoms abate.

Call the doctor if your baby:

  • Isn't wetting as many diapers as usual
  • Has a temperature higher than 102°
  • If your baby develops a fever, looks crankier, wakes up screaming or starts pulling at an ear or seems to have ear pain
  • Has red eyes or develops yellow eye discharge
  • Has a cough for more than one week or one that gets worse in the evening and early morning after other cold symptoms have passed
  • Has thick, green nasal discharge for more than two weeks
  • Has any signs or symptoms that worry you

Seek medical help immediately if your baby:
✔ Refuses to nurse or accept fluids
✔ Coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color
✔ Coughs up blood-tinged sputum
✔ Has difficulty breathing or is bluish around the lips and mouth. Your baby consistently breaths faster than 35-40 times a minute or if you can see the skin between the ribs and below the ribcage sucking in and out with each breath.

Treating Your Baby's Cold

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against over-the-counter cold and cough remedies for children under 2 years old. You're not helpless, though. Here's how to treat and ease those symptoms while your baby's immune system fights off the cold.

Keeping Baby Hydrated

Have you heard that you should avoid milk because it builds up mucus? Sheela Geraghty, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio says that's an old wive's tale. Give your baby breast milk or formula -- just what they usually drink. Your baby needs the nourishment.

Stick to breast milk or formula for babies younger than 6 months old. Don't give plain water to this age group. Their kidneys aren't ready to process it and it may result in an electrolyte imbalance.

Combating Baby's Fever

Fever can help your baby fight off the infection, but it can also make your baby feel miserable.

If your baby's uncomfortable, treat the fever. You can:
✔ Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if your baby is at least six-months-old) to reduce the fever. Follow the dosing information on the package.
✔ You can alternate each medicine every three hours for maximum effect.
✔ Sponge bathe your baby with tepid water.
✔ Don't overdress your baby.

Clearing Baby's Congestion

Saline drops: Use saline drops to loosen and thin the mucus. Place a few drops of the salt water in each nostril. Wait at least 60 seconds. Then use a nasal aspirator to gently remove it.

Humidifier: A cool mist humidifier adds moisture to the air in your baby's room and often helps ease breathing. After each use, empty the water from the humidifier and follow the manufacturer's instruction on keeping the machine clean and disinfected.

Steam: Sometimes a humid room helps to open up your baby's breathing. Run the bathroom shower with hot water long enough to turn the bathroom into a temporary steam room. Sit in there with your baby for about fifteen minutes. If it helps, repeat several times each day. As the congestion looses, use the suction bulb to remove excess mucus.

Heads up: Improve drainage when your baby sleeps by raising the head end of the mattress up about fifteen degrees. You can either raise the end of the crib or by place a pillow or wedge under the mattress.

Colds, unfortunately, are a normal part of life. With age, your baby develop immunities to help fight off infection. Until then, you can try to avoid colds and minimize the discomfort when one occurs.

What works best to get your snuffly, uncomfortable baby feeling better?