By Alexa Joy Sherman
One thing’s for sure: This cold and flu season is a real doozy. And while you’ll stop at nothing to keep your baby healthy (hand sanitizer every hour! No sick visitors!), Mother Nature is still working against you: Of the more than 200 different cold viruses floating around, most babies will catch up to seven of them before their first birthday.
Is it a cold or the flu?
Babies with colds usually have stuffy or runny noses, beginning with a clear discharge that may become thicker and turn yellow or green, as well as coughing, sneezing, a sore throat (which may show up as a decrease in appetite) and/or a low-grade fever (under 102 degrees F).
The flu is similar, but with a prolonged, higher fever and more general discomfort. “The runny nose and cough arrive later and last longer, and secondary bacterial infections may occur more often with the flu,” says Ari Brown, MD, a pediatrician in Austin, Tex., and coauthor of Expecting 411, Baby 411 and Toddler 411.
Ease congestion Try keeping baby upright as much as possible (you might let him sleep in an infant seat or place a pillow under the mattress to elevate the head, suggests Brown), running a humidifier to help loosen up mucus and/or using a little saline spray and bulb suction in the nose—but sparingly. Too much can cause irritation and increase congestion, says Scott Cohen, MD, a Beverly Hills, Calif., pediatrician and author of Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. If your little one’s nasal passages are clogged, keep breast or bottle feedings shorter and more frequent.
Reduce fever and pain For fever or general aches and pains, you can also give infant acetaminophen (Tylenol) to babies 3 months and older, and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to those 6 months and up. Never give babies aspirin or cold and cough medicine.
Call your pedication Since several potentially serious illnesses can start off looking like a cold—including respiratory syncytial virus, croup and whooping cough—call your doctor at the first sign of any cold-like symptoms in infants under 3 months old, and any time you feel symptoms are severe or prolonged thereafter.
How to tell a cold from the flu—and help your baby recoup from either.