While every parent dreads the day their baby catches their first cold, this is a normal part of childhood, and unfortunately, will happen at some point. Time spent around other kids (siblings or other children at daycare) and a naive immune system means babies are simply more susceptible to colds. Here are a few things to know about colds in babies, and symptoms that could indicate something more serious.
Are Colds Dangerous for Babies?
If your baby catches the common cold, try not to worry. A cold caused by a virus isn’t typically something concerning—other than the fussiness and sleepless nights that may follow. However, viruses can escalate into a more serious illness which can potentially be dangerous for young infants.
The characteristic symptoms of the “common cold” can be caused by more than 100 different types of viruses. Fortunately, immune protection builds over time and with each illness. Know that it is normal for pre-school age children and younger to have six to eight colds per year. While certain viruses are more likely to be around in the fall and winter months, babies can catch colds any time of year.
If your baby is in daycare, it might seem like they have a runny nose that never goes away. This can be due to back-to-back colds from different viruses, or just a symptom of one cold that lingers after the body has cleared the viral infection.
How Can I Tell If My Baby Has a Cold?
There can be many symptoms of a cold including fever (defined as any temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), runny nose, cough, congestion, or any combination of the above. Nasal secretions can be clear or can look yellow or green in color. Sneezing, fussiness, decreased appetite, or changes with nursing are other indications of a cold. A rectal thermometer gives the most accurate measurement of body temperature.
It’s important to note that the symptoms of the common cold and the COVID-19 virus are identical. Please contact your baby’s provider if you suspect that your child has been exposed to COVID-19.
How Can I Help Treat My Baby’s Cold?
As colds are caused by viruses, there is no “cure.” A healthy and normally functioning immune system will fight and clear the virus on its own. Antibiotics do not treat illnesses caused by a virus, and as the name implies, only treat bacterial infections. Colds typically last seven to 10 days.
To help your baby get more comfortable:
- Treat fevers with Tylenol (for infants 2 months or older) or Motrin (for infants 6 months or older)
- Give more fluids
- Formula or breastmilk only for babies 6 months and younger
- Formula or breastmilk, and water for babies 6 months and older
- Avoid giving juice or other fluids unless instructed by your doctor
- Allow for plenty of rest
- Use saline drops to break up thick mucus in your baby’s nose, followed by a suctioning device
- Use a humidifier in their room while they sleep
- Sit in a steamy bathroom if you don’t have a humidifier for the room
Avoid giving your baby over-the-counter cough and cold medicines (unless instructed by your pediatrician). Make sure to keep your baby home from daycare to avoid spreading the illness. Typically, children can return once symptoms start improving and they have not had a fever for at least 24 hours. Please check with your child’s doctor for specific recommendations on when it is safe to go back to daycare.
Should I Take My Baby to the Doctor for a Cold?
If your child is less than three months old, contact their provider at the sign of any illness so they can ensure your baby doesn’t have any other infections that need to be addressed.
If your baby is 3 months or older, call the doctor for:
- Signs of dehydration (fewer than normal number of wet diapers)
- Changes with breathing that do not require immediate emergent care (If rapid breathing, working very hard to breathe, or color changes you should call 911 or go to the emergency department)
- Coughing (especially if getting worse, not better)
- Ear pain
- Red eyes or yellow-green eye discharge
- A sudden decrease in time spent nursing or number of bottles
- No improvement after a week
If your baby has a high fever, shaking/chills, rapid breathing, complete refusal to drink any fluids/nurse, unusually low energy, or is difficult to wake, has blue-tinged lips, face, or chest, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
We know that having a baby with a cold can be hard on both you and your baby. Do your best to make them as comfortable as possible and know your baby’s provider will be there to support you every step of the way.