Easing Baby's Cold or Flu

How you can help your baby feel better

It's hard to watch your baby suffer with a cold or the flu, but you don't have to feel helpless. Here are some common symptoms and how you can ease them:

  • Stuffy nose. Try a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer, and be sure to clean it regularly. You could raise your baby's head during sleep by putting a towel or blanket under the crib mattress, but not in the crib itself. To remove nasal congestion, place a few saline nose drops into each nostril and gently use a suction bulb.

  • Congested chest. A humidifier or vaporizer can also ease this symptom, or spend a little time holding your baby in a steamy bathroom. In addition, consider chest physical therapy to loosen mucus. The American Academy of Pediatrics instructs: "Lay your child across your knees, face down; cup your hand; and gently tap your child's back. Or sit your child on your lap, lean her body forward about 30 degrees, cup your hand, and gently tap her back." Do not give decongestants or other cold medications to infants.

  • Fever. Breastfeed or offer a bottle frequently to prevent dehydration. Fever usually doesn't need to be treated; it's helping your baby fight off the infection. Still, parents often want to reduce a fever because of the discomfort it may cause. Infants can be given acetaminophen, and those older than 6 months can be given ibuprofen. Children should not receive aspirin because of a potential side effect called Reye syndrome, a rare but serious condition. Talk to your child's pediatrician before giving any medication. Learn more about fever in children, children's fever and pain drugs and how to properly give medication to an infant.

  • Sore throat. A humidifier, non-aspirin pain reliever and frequently offering a bottle may help. If the sore throat is due to a bacterial infection rather than a cold or the flu, a doctor can prescribe an antibiotic. Learn more about sore throats in children.

  • Diarrhea. Sometimes the flu causes children to have diarrhea. When dehydration results, you?ll need to replace the fluids and electrolytes your baby has lost. In addition to breastfeeding or formula, a doctor may in some cases recommend an over-the-counter pediatric oral rehydration solution. If an infant is profoundly dehydrated, intravenous rehydration in a hospital emergency room may be necessary. Learn more about diarrhea in children.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to ease coughing in babies. Don't give them honey until they're at least a year old (it can cause infant botulism), lozenges or cough medicine. Do notify the pediatrician if there's a persistent cough.

When to call a doctor

Other symptoms that should prompt a call to the pediatrician include:

  • Fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for infants up to 3 months, 101 degrees for ages 3 to 6 months or persistent 101 degrees or greater for ages 6 to 12 months
  • Persistent vomiting
  • White patches in the mouth
  • More than six to eight watery stools a day
  • Fewer than four wet diapers in a 24-hour period
  • Excessive relaxation or stiffness
  • Sleeping through the night at too young an age, or sleeping through the night for the first time when sick

Of course, it's better to avoid respiratory infections than to treat them. Preventive methods include regular handwashing and the annual flu vaccine. Infants younger than 6 months can't get the flu shot, but it's recommended for most people including children ages 6 months and older, pregnant women and people who are around children.

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