Baby's First Cold: Helping Your Little One Through The Sniffles

It's quite hard to imagine just how shocking it must feel for a baby the first time they get a proper cold.

There they were, happily enjoying all of life's pleasures (breasts, cuddles, rattles) and all of a sudden, bam! A leaking nose, a painful throat, aches, shivers.

Of course, we parents know that that the sniffles shall pass.

But actually, that doesn't make it any easier to watch your baby suffering, even if it is with a common cold. It's natural you should worry.

The first thing you may notice is your baby becoming fidgety and irritable

How will I notice my baby has a cold?

Colds tend to come on slowly. The first thing you might notice is your baby becoming fidgety and irritable.

Then there will be a bit of nose stuffiness, which will progress to nostrils dripping like leaky taps. A day or two in, your baby might get a fever. And at the height of their cold, they'll have all the horrid symptoms they can't tell you about – perhaps a headache, a sore throat, aches and pains – well, you know what a cold feels like.

Often a cold will linger for a little while, usually with a rasping cough which is caused by all that mucus, but the major symptoms should have gone within a week or so.

How can I help my baby?

Colds can't be cured – even cold remedies for adults only treat the symptoms. But there is lots you can do to ease your baby's discomfort while the cold works its way out of their system.

Offer your little one frequent feeds (either breast or bottle). They might be a bit off their milk when they have a cold, so little and often is the way to go, to keep them hydrated (you can also offer water to babies over the age of four months).

Although some babies lose their appetite when they have a cold, others simply find feeding difficult because of their nose being all stuffed up – they need to be able to breathe.

If this is the case, pop along to your local pharmacy and buy some saline drops. You can put a couple of drops in each nostril 15 minutes before a feed (which will loosen up the mucus in the sinuses) and then try using a nasal aspirator to suck out some of the snot.

Keep plenty of tissues or wipes to hand

Be warned, though – nasal aspirators are not the easiest things to use – and there aren't many babies who enjoy having something stuck in their nose, cold or no cold! You could always try the old fashioned method – put your mouth over your baby's nose, and suck it all out yourself. A sure sign of a parent's love if ever there was one...

Keep plenty of tissues or wipes to hand, to dab at the constant stream coming from that little nose. But be very gentle, because your baby's skin will quickly redden from all the dampness. Try wiping some petroleum jelly between the nose and top lip to sooth and protect the area.

Should I be worried about a high temperature?

Although colds are not generally serious, in very young babies, you do need to keep an eye on their fever.

Any baby under three months whose temperature goes above 38°C should be seen by a GP. And babies under six months should be taken to a doctor if their fever goes above 39°C.

If your baby is younger than three months, it's probably advisable to take them to the doctor when they become poorly, even if you do think it's just a cold. The younger your baby, the less developed their immune system is and that makes them more prone to secondary infection.

If your baby's cold seemed to be getting better, but then a fever returns, along with any new symptoms (such as listlessness, or pulling at or rubbing their ears), take them to your GP to have them looked at.

Can I give my baby medicine?

It's essential you don't give your baby any cold and flu remedies, or decongestants, which are intended for adults, because they include ingredients which are unsafe for young children.

However, you could give them the correct dose of liquid paracetamol (as long as they are older than two months), or liquid ibuprofen (as long as they are older than three months, and weigh over 11lb/5kg).

Both these medicines will help to reduce your baby's fever, and relieve aches, pains, headache and sore throat, so they might perk up no end. Always follow the dosage instructions to the letter, never be tempted to add a little extra for good measure.

In between doses, do continue to check your baby's temperature. If it's raised, but at a safe level, give the medicine and you should see your baby's fever drop away within half an hour.

Can I prevent another cold?

It can be hard to know when there is a cold virus lurking. Colds are transmitted through the air as a result of people coughing or sneezing, but also on hands, toys and so on, so that makes it tricky to avoid the bug.

That said, there are measures you can take to minimise the chances of your baby catching another one.

Breastfeeding provides your newborn with antibodies that can help them to fight off infection, so if you can, then do. Don't smoke around your baby, or allow anyone else to, and wash your hands frequently. All these things decrease the chances of a nasty cold.

Unfortunately, with hundreds of known cold viruses doing the circuits at any one time, your baby is sure to catch another cold at some point. But the older they get, the easier they'll cope with it – in the meantime, keep your stash of cold-battling apparatus/medicine stocked up – especially in the winter!

Margot, born at 29 weeks

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