Dealing with baby colds

I’ve been to the trenches and I feel like I have some valuable advice for new moms about dealing with bad colds in babies and toddlers… so here goes.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and none of what I say is based on formal research or literature. This is chatty advice from one mom to another and should NEVER supersede the advice of your doctor or your own instincts. If you are worried about your child, TAKE HER TO A DOCTOR.


About stuffy noses: babies are mostly not bothered by this while they’re awake, but this makes it awfully hard for them to sleep. Your weapons are as follows:

* The Nosefrida: this is the only nose suctioner worth having. Sounds gross, but really isn’t, and really works better than anything else. Look it up on Amazon to see how it works. The best position for suctioning a baby (and babies ALWAYS hate having this done) is for you to sit on the floor with the baby in front of you, facing away from you. Wrap your legs indian-style around the baby, and wrap one arm around the baby’s chest and up under its chin, so it can’t move its head. Use your mouth and the other hand to suction. Sound brutal? It is, and I’m not sure it helps the baby any.

* Saline spray: I haven’t tried these because by the time I’m desperate it enough to consider them, Mimi has always been too congested for the saline to help.

* Warm baths: during a real snot storm, a soak in a warm bath every morning and every evening helps enormously. Wipe her nose with a washcloth frequently.

* Baby VapoRub: you shouldn’t use regular VapoRub on small children because it is too harsh for their little nasal linings. The good news is that there is a baby version and the FDA hasn’t counter-indicated its use yet. Lather the baby’s chest before putting her down to sleep.

* An incline: often getting the baby to sleep at an incline is what will calm her down and help her to drop off and stay that way… for a while anyhow. A bouncy chair like this one is comfy enough for a baby to sleep in and has a harness so she can’t fall out. During Mimi’s very worst congestion she would do 90 minutes in her bouncy, then 90 minutes lying in her crib, lather rinse repeat. Toddlers are too big for these chairs. A bed pillow is the obvious way to elevate a toddler’s head if you feel your child is old enough to safely sleep with one. If you don’t, roll up a towel and stick it under one end of the crib mattress. Pray that the kid stays oriented correctly.

And about coughs, which we’ve just dealt with. There is a cold going around the US right now that causes terrible awful no good very bad coughing, and Mimi caught it. She coughed so hard she vomited several times.

The first thing to know about a cough is whether or not your baby’s lungs are clear. When you reach the point in the cold where you feel like a doctor’s visit is needed, the doctor will tell you how your baby’s lungs sound. If the baby’s lungs are clear, then the cough is a nuisance to be dealt with, and that’s what this advice is about. If the baby’s lungs aren’t clear then follow your doctor’s advice. Mimi has, mercifully, never had chest congestion so I don’t know anything about dealing with that.

* OTC painkillers: if you don’t know the appropriate dosages of acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen for your child, or whether she’s old enough to take them at all, FIND OUT RIGHT NOW. OTC cough suppressants are counter-indicated for children under six years old (!!!), but pain and itching signals are carried to the brain with the same fibers, so if your baby has a dry cough due to an itchy throat, a painkiller might help.

* Baby VapoRub: can’t hurt, might help. Lather up your baby’s chest and consider putting some on the bottoms of her feet too–it’s a modern wives’ tale and couldn’t hurt, might help.

* Warm steam: warm steam humidifiers don’t spew mold and spores into the air the way a badly maintained cool mist humidifier does. In my experience having the steam jet pointed at the baby seems to make the cough worse, while having it pointed away might help, and doesn’t hurt.

* An incline: again in my own experience, having one’s head elevated lessens the tendency to cough. See the discussion in the runny nose section.

* Honey: NOTE: Honey is not safe for infants under one year of age. Sorry! (My pediatrician friend Janine has reminded me of this in the comments). OTC cough suppressants are counterindicated for children under six years old, and the current medical dogma is that honey is a more effective cough suppressant anyway. Put a couple of teaspoons of honey in a sippy cup of whatever your child likes to drink, and give it to her at bedtime or any time she’s having a coughing fit. I found this to be more effective than I expected, especially when given to a baby who is coughing in her sleep.

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, poor mama. As if it isn’t bad enough helping your baby get through the night in these situations, there’s a good chance you’ll come down with it in a day or two also. It’s hard. I hope this advice makes it easier.

3 thoughts on “Dealing with baby colds

  1. Great advice ๐Ÿ™‚ the one nitpicky pediatrician thing I would add is that honey should NEVER be given to babies less than 1 year of age. Honey contains botulinum spores, which can cause infant botulism (muscle weakness and, in some cases, respiratory failure). Otherwise, dose away!

  2. …and for babies >6months (and their parents and older siblings), please don’t forget about flu shots!

    (Waits with trepidation for shrieky anti-vax replies…) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Poor pixie, I hope she (and you are) bug-free at the moment!
    What a gorgeous blanket to snuggle down with!

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