When your baby is sick with the cold or flu, it’s tough . . especially if you have other children in the home. You have to take time off work. You are up at all hours of the night and day trying to comfort your fussy, unhappy baby. You might be calling the pediatrician every hour on the hour. And unfortunately, you can’t give your baby any over-the-counter cough or cold medicine.
Babies have immature immune systems, and it’s easy for them to catch the common cold – particularly if they’re around other children or people who don’t wash their hands before they touch them. Young infants haven’t had the time to acquire immunity to many common illnesses.
In a single year, it’s estimated that a typical baby will experience up to seven colds. Bottle-fed babies usually experience more colds and sickness than breastfed babies. However, all babies will get sick at some point or another.
So what can you do when your baby comes down with the cold or flu? Over-the-counter cold medicine is not an option for children under age 2. It is too dangerous. (Read below for the reason why).
Check out these gentle and effective natural home remedies for babies with colds. They will help your baby feel better and give you peace of mind.
Lots of Rest and Use a Humidifier
No matter how old your baby is, he or she needs lots of rest to fight the infection.
You should also consider buying a humidifier to moisten the air in your nursery. Breathing moist air will help loosen the mucus in your baby’s nasal passages. Many experts recommend that you use a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier for a baby. The hot water or steam from a warm-mist humidifier (or steam vaporizer) can burn your young infant if he or she gets too close.
There are, however, a few healthcare professions that do recommend warm-air humidifiers, like Dr. William Sears. You should always talk to your pediatrician about his or her recommendations.
Both cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers are equally as effective in moistening the air. But by the time the water vapor gets into your baby’s lower airways, it’s the same temperature no matter if it started out cool or warm. Cool-mist humidifiers are usually less expensive.
When using a humidifier, it’s important that you prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. You should wipe the humidifier down each day to keep it clean.
Extra Fluids (6 Months and Older)
For babies under 6 months old, you should exclusively breastfeed or bottle-fed. (Unless your doctor has given you other advice.) Breast milk or formula will hydrate your baby even on the hottest day.
Experts don’t recommend you giving your baby water until after 6 months of age. Water can interfere with your baby’s ability to absorb the nutrients in breast milk or formula. Water also makes your baby feel full, which will curb his desire to feed. (In rare cases, a baby who drinks too much water can develop a condition called water intoxication – which can lead to seizures and comas).
After six months old, it’s OK to give your baby sips of water when he or she is thirsty. Don’t overdo it though.
When you have a sick baby who is over 6 months old, you should give him or her extra fluids when sick. Drinking extra fluids – water, juice, pedialyte, or more breast milk or formula – will help prevent dehydration, and it will flush and thin out your baby’s nasal secretions.
Chicken Soup (6 Months and Older)
After your baby is 6 months old, you may consider feeding your baby warm chicken soup. Not only is chicken soup hydrating, but it actually has anti-inflammatory properties. (You can read more about the natural healing power of chicken soup in my Top 7 Foods to Fight the Cold and Flu Naturally).
If your baby isn’t ready for solid foods, you may consider pureeing his portion of chicken soup in a blender. Or you could just feed the broth to your sick baby.
(It’s important that you wait until your baby is at least six months old before your try this home remedy for treating colds in babies. You should exclusively breastfeed or formula feed until six months.)
Rubber Bulb Syringe
When your baby has a cold and he or she is all stuffed up, you can use a rubber bulb syringe to remove the mucus from his or her nose. (Babies are too young to blow their nose.) Suctioning your baby’s nose will make it easier for your little one to breathe, eat, and sleep. You should suction your baby’s nose about fifteen minutes before you are going to feed your little one.
You can buy rubber bulb syringe over-the-counter at any pharmacy or health store. You should also purchase a saline, or salt water, solution along with the bulb syringe. You will need both.
How to Suction Your Baby’s Nose
Tip your baby’s head back and squeeze between 10 and 20 drops of the saline solution into each nostril to loosen the mucus. Try to keep your baby’s head still for ten seconds afterwards. Then, squeeze the bulb of the syringe and gentle insert the rubber tip into one nostril. You will slowly release the bulb to suck up the mucus and saline solution. Remove the syringe from your baby’s nostril, and squeeze the bulb to get rid of mucus into a paper towel or tissue. Wipe the syringe clean and repeat the process with the other nostril.
Repeat the process if it’s needed. You should clean the bulb syringe with soap and water afterwards.
Be careful not to overdo it. You should only suction your baby’s nose a few times a day. When you suction too often, it can irritate the lining of your baby’s nose. It’s also important that you don’t use saline drops for more than four days in a row, since too much can dry out your baby’s nose and make your little one feel worse.
If your baby doesn’t like the syringe, you should use the saline drops and gently wipe the lower part of your baby’s nostrils with a cotton swab. This doesn’t have the benefit of the suction, but it’s better than doing nothing.
Vapor Rubs or Tiger Balm (3 Months and Up)
If your baby is three months or older, consider using a vapor rub or Tiger Balm (an Asian heat rub that we Vietnamese people use on our sick babies) on your baby’s chest, neck, and back. Vapor rubs will help the sick baby feel like she’s breathing better, because it produces a cool sensation in the nose.
You should look for vapor rubs that are specifically designed for babies. Wal-Mart, Amazon, and other retailers sell products called “Baby Rub” that are made specifically for your baby.
Don’t use vapor rub (or Tiger Balm, if you’re Asian) on any broken skin. Don’t apply it on your baby’s face. It is too strong that close to your baby’s eyes and mouth.
NO Cough or Cold Medicine for Children Under Age 2
In 2008, the FDA issued a public advisory warning all parents against giving children under 2 years old any over-the-counter cough syrup or cold medicine. This includes cough suppressants, decongestants, expectorants, and antihistamines. Cold and cough medication in babies and young children can cause rare, but life-threatening side effects.
When over-the-counter cold and cough medication is given to babies and young children under age two, dangerous side effects have reported – including convulsions, decreased levels of consciousness, rapid heart rates, and death.
These side effects are rare, but you don’t want to run the risk of your child getting seriously ill. According to the CDC, between 2006 and 2008, an estimated 1,500 babies and toddlers ended up in the ER after they experienced a bad reaction to cold medicine. In 2007, a FDA review found that between 1969 and 2006, an estimated 54 children had died from decongestants and 69 from antihistamines. A majority of these deaths were under age 2.
Don’t stress out if your baby is coughing. Coughing is the body’s way of clearing mucus that has traveled down the respiratory tract, near the lungs. If you suppress coughing with medicine, the mucus may linger down there for longer than it needs to be.
When To Call the Doctor
Experts recommend that parents with young babies (under three months of age) call their pediatrician at the first sign of illness. If your baby is older than three months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call the doctor if your baby’s nostrils flare out with each breath, if your baby has a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should also contact the doctor if your baby’s lips turn blue, or if your baby is excessively sleepy or cranky. If your baby has pain in his or her ear, call the doctor.
Use common sense. If you feel off about something, call the doctor. In many cases, a mother’s intuition is right.
Preventive Measure – Breastfeeding May Prevent Illness
One of the best ways to protect your baby from sickness is to breastfeed.
Breast milk is full of antibodies (which are created by the mother’s body in response to pathogens in her unique environment) and immune factors that protect the baby from common illnesses. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Institutes of Health, and other health organizations, breastfed children are sick less often than bottle-fed babies. When they do get sick, their illnesses are shorter in duration, and they aren’t as severe. There are a variety of studies that have suggested that breastfeeding will actually help your baby’s immune system develop more quickly (as a result of the lymphocytes and macrophages in the breast milk, which produce antibodies and immune factors to strengthen the baby’s overall health. Formula has not been able to reproduce these natural immune boosters.)
Breastfeeding is difficult for some mothers. But some breast milk is better than none at all.
If you can, try to nurse your child for the first week of life. Colostrum – early breast milk, which is expressed immediately after birth – has huge quantities of an important antibody called secretory immunoglobin A. This antibody forms a protective layer on your baby’s mucous membranes and will protect him or her from sickness.