There’s a reason colds are called “common”: Most healthy children have six to nine viral infections each year. Small children have more than their share of run-ins with runny noses because they haven’t yet had the chance to build up immunities against the many different cold viruses flying around. Though these frequent colds are rough on your baby’s nose (and his snot-smeared cheeks), they won’t do him any harm, and they can actually do him some good. Frequent bouts with bugs can boost your baby’s immune system, making him less susceptible to infection later in life.
Unfortunately, knowing that there will be perks later is little consolation when your baby is sick now. To help treat baby’s cold and weather the germ-packed winter months, try these tips:
- Monitor mucus. A stuffed-up nose can be uncomfortable for your baby, making it difficult for him to breathe (babies are usually nose breathers) and for both of you to sleep. Use a suction bulb to gently extract the excess mucus. Got the crusties?
- Over-the-counter saline nose drops can soften mucus before suctioning.
- Heighten humidity. Use a warm-mist humidifier in your baby’s room. Moist air can reduce congestion and make breathing easier for him.
- Bump up the bed. Raise the head of the crib mattress by positioning a couple of pillows or other supports underneath it to make breathing easier.
- Get savvy with salve. Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly or other ointment (such as Aquaphor) under your baby’s nose to help prevent chapping and reddening of skin. (Be careful not to let it get into the nostrils, where it could be inhaled or block breathing.) “Smear tactics” giving your baby’s cheeks or chin a raw deal? Dab a little ointment there as well.
- Fight back with fluids. Increase your baby’s fluid intake to replace those lost through fever or runny nose.
Happily, the common cold will commonly go away on its own after a few days. But watch for any of these signs that your baby’s illness is getting worse:
- Your baby develops a fever that lasts for more than two days or his temperature spikes suddenly.
- His cough becomes productive or wheezy.
- A thick, greenish-yellow nasal discharge develops and lasts more than a day.
- Your baby starts pulling on his ear.
- He seems to be especially out of sorts (very cranky, unable to sleep for very long) or downright lethargic.
All of these symptoms indicate that a secondary infection, such as an ear infection or bronchiolitis, may have set in, and it’s time for medical treatment — just what your pediatrician is there for.