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Skip the Baby Cold:
How to Avoid the Crusty Nose Nasties

Don't let a baby cold turn your beautiful infant into a nightmare of crusty yellow nasties. You can have a hugable baby all winter long.

I love my children, but even I, their mother shy away from touching the "Crusty Monster". It takes all my love and willpower to pick up that baby, cringing as she wipes her lovely boogers all over my sweater.

I'm a booger nazi. I can't stand it. My kids see me coming, wet-wipe in tow (because, let's face it...regular kleenex is useless with these gigantic icicles of snot), and promptly make a run for it. I always prevail, but not before much screaming and wrestling to the ground. It's a bonafide WWF match.

Do remember that old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"?

Well, when it comes to the baby cold you're WAY better off to avoid the wrestling and screaming in the first place. Avoid the stuffy nose...amd you'll avoid the battle of the Titans it takes to keep it clean.

In this article, we'll go over the basics of baby colds. The nitty gritty doctor-babble, the why-didn't-I-think-of-that tips, even unveiling the sneaking flu virus (which often poses as a cold).

And then, of course, there's always getting rid of one.

The Nitty Gritty Doctor Babble
on Baby Colds

baby cold

The sniffles can make anyone miserable.
Help your baby recover quickly.

The doctor-babble term for "the common cold" is Upper Respiratory Infection. Colds are caused by a virus, so treating them involves more than just taking a few antibiotics.

Babies contract a lot more colds than adults. Their immature immune systems make catching a cold fairly easy. In fact, studies have shown that the average baby will have 6-8 colds a year!

Despite your grandmother's insistence, cold air does not cause colds. Viruses cause colds. However, there is evidence that cold air hampers your body's natural defenses against those viruses.

So if you do contract a virus, the cold air will make it more likely your immune system won't be able to prevent that virus from developing into a fully-fledged cold. Ironically, once you actually come down with a cold, going out into chilly air for a few minutes can actually help alleviate some symptoms!

Newborns under 4 weeks very rarely get colds, since their bodies still carry an extra mama-dose of antibodies. Those infants exposed to toddlers or older children (either at home or in daycare) can have as many as 10 or more colds a year.

The virus is spread to infants mostly by touch. It also can be spread through droplets after sneezing, but unless you're sneezing while you're nursing, or someone else is bending over your baby and sneezes directly into their face, it is unlikely.

Effective prevention concentrates more on hand-washing and less on the sneezing two tables away.

The 4 Best Ways to Prevent a Baby Cold

The best cure for a cold is actually preventing it in the first place. (Although once your baby gets it, there are things you can do to help him suffer through it more comfortably!) Here are some tips to avoid dripping noses and sleepless nights.
  • Since the virus likes to move around by hand-to-hand contact, it makes logical sense that you encourage frequent hand washing in the home. Carrying an alcohol-based antibacterial wash in your diaper bag is also a helpful idea to stop visiting viruses. Even baby wipes can be used to help keep you and your baby's hands as virus-free as possible.

      Heather's Hint: When you're dining out, wash the table in front of your infant with antibacterial wash before eating. Even if he uses a plate, chances are his hands will be all over that table!

  • Breastfeeding (even for just a few months) is also a great way to help prevent a baby cold. Your breastmilk gives antibodies to your baby, and protects him as he builds up his own.

  • Limiting contact with other sick adults and children is also a common-sense solution to avoiding a baby cold. Obviously, that's not always practical, since you may have a job that requires daycare. However, most daycares have policies in place that can help reduce the spread of sicknesses. (Or at least they should!)

  • Children who live around smokers have more colds and respiratory infections than children who don't. If you smoke, try quitting. I know that's easier said than done, but programs like CigArrest have a good track record and can help.
You can only do what you can do. Wash your hands (and your baby's frequently), quit smoking, disinfect toys regularly, and offer breastmilk as often as you can.

Is it a Baby Cold? or the Flu?

It is very easy to confuse an infant cold with the flu. Since they are both (mostly) caused by viruses, they have a lot of the same symptoms: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fever, and congestion. All these symptoms are the body trying to eject the virus OUT of the body and are helpful to healing. The fever will help prevent the virus from multiplying within the body.

Older children can share that they are having flu-like symptoms. They will complain of achy muscles, headaches, sore throat, etc. Your baby can't tell you any of that! You'll have to help him out. Here's some simple rules to help you tell the difference between a cold and the flu.

  • A cold starts slowly, first a clear drippy nose, then a fever, then congestion, etc., all over a few days. The flu hits suddenly, sometimes in a matter of hours.
  • There may be a low-grade fever with a cold, but it will go away after 24 hours. If your infant has a high temperature (101 F) for longer than 24 hours, it's probably the flu and you should contact your doctor.

SIDE NOTE: Infants younger than 3 months are more susceptible to infection. A fever is often the body's first signal that it's fighting something. If your newborn gets a fever higher than 100 degrees F, contact your doctor.
Sometimes the virus-caused cold will invite a few bacteria friends along to party. If that happens, your baby's nose will start dripping gray or green mucus. In 25-30% of baby cold cases, the bacteria will spread to the ears, causing painful ear infections as well. The good news is that bacteria can be fought with antibiotics, so a doctor visit would be helpful.

When to Call the Doctor
A Baby Cold Checklist

infant cold
{Photo by bethography}
It is rare, but occasionally a common baby cold will develop into something more serious. Here's when to make that doctor call:
  • A prolonged or rising fever of 101 degrees F (or higher) for 24 hours (or longer)
  • Constant tugging or pulling on ears
  • Rapid shallow breathing, as seen in nostril flaring and watching the skin between the ribs suck in with each breath.
  • Thick pus coming from the eyes
  • Fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours
  • Excessive sleeping or lethargic behavior

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You've avoided all the baby cold "triggers" and sanitized like a fiend. You've practically put your baby in a bubble to avoid getting a cold.

Yet, despite all this, your little angel has been transformed into a goober-monster. What do you do next?

Return to the Main Infant Health Section from Baby Cold Cures

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Copyright © The Essential Infant Resource for Moms 2007 - 2011.

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