Keep in mind that there are over 200 rhinoviruses that cause respiratory disorders like the common cold. Sometimes it seems like your baby is intent upon catching every single one of those viruses in the first year. Remember, your baby's immune system is still developing. While you will pass on some antibodies to protect him, especially if you breastfeed, your baby will still catch his share of colds and other common childhood diseases, although thankfully, probably not all in the first year! Here are practical suggestions to help you both survive those sick days.
Babies catch colds — a lot of colds — particularly if they have older siblings bringing cold viruses home from school. Until your infant is about two months old, you should try to protect him from exposure to non-family members who have colds. Babies this young really need their noses to breathe because they don't easily switch to mouth breathing when their noses are stuffy.
While a cold itself will clear up on its own, colds can lead to secondary conditions such as ear infections, pneumonia, or bronchitis. If your baby doesn't seem to be getting better, or spikes a fever after recovering from his initial bout with fever, suspect a secondary infection and call your doctor.
Most colds are mild. A cold typically lasts a week to ten days. It may start out with a fever, followed by stuffiness, sneezing, and sometimes a cough. Don't try to guard your baby against catching colds forever or try to protect him from his siblings' colds. The former will make you crazy and the latter is impossible. Unpleasant as they can be, your baby needs to have a few colds in his first year. Exposure means that he will be less susceptible to cold viruses later on when missing a few weeks of school may set him back. It turns out that exposure to germs during the first year of life helps make a child's immune system function correctly. A recent study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute concluded that frequent exposure to other children (and their germs), particularly in the first six months of life, reduces the chance of a child developing asthma later on.
You shouldn't give a baby (or any child under two years) any cold medications. These medicines really don't work, and may make him hyperactive or cause other side effects rather than help your baby sleep better. Use a nasal aspirator to clear out his nose before feeding him, or whenever he seems particularly uncomfortable.
FIGURE 12-1: Using a nasal aspirator
Using a Nasal Aspirator
Hold your baby in a sitting position. Tilt his head back, put in a few drops of saline solution in each nostril, and wait a minute. First, squeeze the bulb of the aspirator, and then, with his head upright, place just the tip into one nostril, and hold his other nostril closed with your finger. Slowly let go of the bulb. Remove it from your baby's nose and squirt any mucus out onto a tissue. Repeat for the other nostril.
You can also temporarily clear your baby's congestion with a few drops of saline solution placed in each nostril (wait a minute or two, and then use the aspirator). Saline solution is sold in special applicators for this purpose, or you can use any commercial saline solution and a standard eyedropper. You can also make your own saline with one-quarter teaspoon of table salt in eight ounces of warm tap water, just remember to make up a fresh batch every day or two and store it in a clean bottle. If his nose and lips are getting irritated, dab them with petroleum jelly.
Other Cold Strategies
At night, use a cool air vaporizer or humidifier in your baby's room to keep the nasal secretions from drying out. Elevate the head of your baby's crib by putting a pillow UNDER the mattress or blocks under the legs of the crib. (Don't put a pillow in the crib.)
Make sure your baby drinks plenty of liquids. Nurse frequently if you are breastfeeding, or offer a variety of liquids if your baby is on solid foods. A baby with a stuffy nose may prefer to drink from a cup since it's easier than from a bottle. Don't cut back on milk since it rarely increases the production of mucus and any liquids your baby will drink are beneficial.