What causes colds?
They spread when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs, unleashing a cold virus into the air to be inhaled by someone else. They can also be transmitted through hand-to-hand contact. So always cover your mouth when you cough, and wash your hands after blowing your nose.
How do colds affect babies?
- fever of up to 38 degrees C
- reddened eyes
- sore throat
- stuffy, runny nose
- loss of appetite
- irritability and restlessness
- swollen lymph nodes (under his armpits, on his neck and the back of his head)
Your baby may be having trouble breathing through his nose if he’s all stuffed up, so feeding will probably be difficult. Children can’t usually blow their own noses until about the age of four, so you’ll have to help your baby clear the mucus. (See our tips in How to treat a cold, below).
If your baby has been sleeping through the night, you’ll be reminded of those first few weeks of life. He’ll probably wake up several times because his nose is stuffy. Expect to be up with your baby, comforting him and wiping his nose.
Your baby’s cold should be gone within 10 days or so. In very young babies a cold may last up to two weeks.
How do I treat a cold?
- Make sure your baby gets plenty of rest.
- Your baby will be too young to blow his own nose. So help him to breathe more easily by wiping his nose for him. You can also dab a little petroleum jelly to the outside of your baby’s nostrils to reduce any irritation.
- Give your baby infant paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down his fever, but only if he is three months or older. Check the dosage information on the packet, or ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure about how much to give your baby. You may have heard about a link between paracetamol and babies developing wheezing or asthma. Be assured there is no evidence paracetamol causes these problems.
- If your baby is having trouble feeding with a stuffy nose, nasal saline drops may help to unblock his nose. You can buy these from your pharmacy. Apply the drops to each nostril 15 minutes before a feed.
- A vapour rub may help your baby to breathe more easily. You can buy one from your pharmacy. Apply it to his chest and back – don’t put it on his nostrils as it could restrict his breathing.
- Breathing in steam may help to loosen your baby’s stuffy nose. However, don’t put your baby close to hot, steamy water as there is a risk of him being scalded. A safer option is to take your baby into the bathroom with you. Turn on the hot water or shower, close the door, and sit in the steamy room for a few minutes. Remember to change him into dry clothes afterwards.
If your baby has a stuffy nose without any other symptoms, check that he doesn’t have something stuck in his nose. Even young babies are capable of putting things up there.
Don’t give your baby any over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. They should not be given to children under six because of the risk of side effects.
When should I take my baby to the doctor?
For a baby over three months, you may want to take him to the doctor to confirm that it is a common cold.
Also take your baby to the doctor if:
- his cold hasn’t improved after five days
- his temperature climbs above 38 degrees C
- he is having trouble breathing
- he has a cough that won’t go away
- he is rubbing his ears and seems irritated – this could signal an ear infection
- he is coughing up green, yellow or brown mucus, or it’s running from his nose
Can I help prevent my baby from getting colds?
You can also protect your baby by trying to keep him away from anyone with a cough or a cold. Or ask them to wash their hands thoroughly before handling your baby or his things.
If you or your partner smokes, give it up, and don’t take your baby to areas where people are smoking. Babies who live with smokers have more colds, and their colds last longer than babies who aren’t exposed to smoke.