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As a Parent, it is Hard to See Your Baby Sick
Few situations can feel more frustrating for a parent than a sick infant or young child.
Signs & Symptoms of Cold / Flu in a Baby
Unlike children or teens who can tell you how they are feeling, babies can’t communicate their discomfort with words. However, they can certainly express those feelings with crying, facial expressions, and other signs of feeling sick.
Colds are less common in newborns because their mother offers some immune protection. However, that protection wears off after about six months, right when colds become more common. (1)
For newborns, nasal symptoms can provide an early sign of a cold. (2) Many cold symptoms overlap with other conditions including pneumonia. Always take babies under three months old to a healthcare practitioner if they have a cold. (3)
By their first year, most infants have had several colds. (4) For the common cold, you can help your infant feel more comfortable and breathe more easily with a humidifier. (5) Talk with your healthcare practitioner about saline nose drops and other ways to help your infant breathe better.
Unless your healthcare practitioner advises otherwise, avoid giving infants over-the-counter medications. While some healthcare practitioners recommend fever-reducing medications, cough and cold medications aren’t safe for infants and young children. (6)
Always follow the specific instructions of your healthcare practitioner. Never modify or discontinue any medications or specific advice without your practitioner’s consent. If you have any doubt about a fever or other illness with your baby, please confer with your healthcare practitioner or visiting your emergency room.
A Cold versus The Flu (and Underlying Symptoms)
A virus underlies both a cold and the flu. With the common cold, symptoms develop gradually. (7) He or she might get a runny nose, which develops into a cough or sore throat along with a mild fever. These symptoms can last three to 10 days.
With the flu, symptoms often occur faster and feel more intense. The flu also can create a higher fever and chills. (8)
Determining whether your infant has a cold or the flu can be tricky since infants can’t verbally express symptoms including muscle aches, fatigue, and headaches. (9) But a fever can provide an initial sign that something is wrong. Don’t rely on simply feeling a baby’s forehead. To diagnose fever, use a rectal temperature.
Reducing Fever in Infants
Over 100.4°F (38°C) indicates a fever, which means your baby’s body is fighting an infection. (10) While most fevers are harmless, speak with your healthcare practitioner when a newborn runs a fever higher than 100.4°F. (11)
A fever isn’t always bad, and even minor illnesses can create fever for older infants. After all, a higher body temperature helps the body fight invading viruses and bacteria to fight infections. (12) Even with knowing that, seeing your little one suffer can be difficult.
Fever can indicate numerous illnesses. Among them include ear infections, colds, sore throats, and viral illnesses. (13) If vomiting accompanies that fever, dehydration can also occur.
Your baby’s body might be able to fight that infection alone. (14) Keep the room cool and comfortable. Keeping an infant’s head slightly elevated can improve breathing. (15)
Those things can all lower a baby’s temperature. Even bringing the body temperature down one degree can help young ones feel better.
If you have any doubts or concerns, please contact your healthcare practitioner. Certain conditions with fever, including symptoms returning after they disappear, warrant medical attention. (16)
At the same time, not every high temperature requires treatment. (17) If your child is consuming liquid and seems fairly comfortable, you can let the fever ride its course.
If your young one displays discomfort, won’t consume liquids, or otherwise acts ill, you might want to take measures to lower the fever. Most doctors agree once temperature returns to normal for 24 hours, a young child can safely resume regular activities. (18)
If your infant does require medical attention, you’ll want to note specific concerns including:
- Current symptoms and when they most often occur
- Past history of illness
- Medications your baby takes (19)
10 Ways to Help Your Young One Feel More Comfortable While Ill
Regardless of whether your young one requires medical attention for a cold or flu, you’ll want to do everything possible to reduce discomfort and help them feel better quickly. Talk with your healthcare practitioner about these and other strategies to minimize the impact of a cold or flu and help your young one feel comfortable during illness.
- Keep the room cool and comfortable. Use a humidifier, and keep it clean with fresh water to prevent mold and bacteria. A cooling fan can also help. Remove extra layers of clothing that might make your infant uncomfortable. (20)
- Soothe with a bath. Comfort your young and reduce fever with a sponge bath or a lukewarm bath with lavender. Worth noting: While an Epsom salt bath can be calming for adults, magnesium can be a laxative that could increase bowel movements in young children. (21)
- Calm with essential oils. Chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, mandarin, and other essential oils can help your young one sleep better while reducing anxiety. (22) Each provides its own benefits. Lavender, for instance, can soothe an infant to sleep. Don’t use essential oils for babies under three months old, and discuss specific ones with your healthcare practitioner. While eucalyptus globulus is safe for adults, for instance, children under two shouldn’t use it. Instead, opt for eucalpytus radiata.
- Keep your child well-hydrated. Vomiting, sweating, and other symptoms that accompany a fever can dehydrate a child. Don’t give water to infants under 6 months old. Their kidneys aren’t mature enough to handle water at that age, so opt for breast milk for formula instead. (23) If drinking filtered water isn’t an option for infants over six months, add a little lemon or lime to that water. You might also make homemade popsicles to cool a child down.
- Encourage but don’t force them to eat. Babies can start eating solid food when they are four to six months old. Bland, soft foods are ideal. Aim for nutrient-dense, higher-calorie foods. (24) Almond butter with celery or apple slices makes good choices. So are nutrient-dense soups with coconut cream or sauteed vegetables in butter or extra-virgin coconut oil. The healthy fat makes these foods more palatable and helps young ones better absorb nutrients. Make mealtime fun and upbeat, but don’t force babies and young children to eat.
- Make smoothies. If eating real food isn’t on the menu when your baby or young child is sick, smoothies make a great alternative. Add grass-fed whey protein powder for extra immune support (25) along with healthy fats like unsweetened coconut milk. You can even slip some leafy greens into the smoothie along with berries for extra nutrient density. We’ve got some delicious smoothie recipes here.
- Maintain electrolyte balance. Sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and not eating enough can create electrolyte imbalances that can lead to muscle cramps and other discomforts. (26) Bone broth makes an excellent, nutrient-dense solution for children age one and up. So does unsweetened coconut water. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about a no-sugar-added electrolyte formula. Electrolyte Synergy™ has a delicious lemon-orange flavor that freezes well in ice cubes: Perfect to keep a young one with fever cool while replenishing electrolytes.
- Have “get well” sheets and other rituals to soothe. (27) Having specific items for when your infant or young child gets sick can provide extra comfort. That may be a “magic” bed sheet or a special stuffed animal that calms and placates your young one.
- Love and attention are the best medicine. (28) Nothing quite soothes a sick infant like a gentle massage, reading or singing, snuggling, and speaking in a soothing voice.
- Although sufficient rest comes in at a close second. Encourage regular naps and as much sleep as possible. Avoid overly stimulating activities that can impede rest. (29)
Finally, remember to take care of yourself. Having a sick infant or child can take its toll on your own health. Stress, missed work days, less sleep, and worrying are some of the side effects a sick one can create for you.