Dec 11, 2018, 9:57:35 AM CST Dec 11, 2018, 10:12:04 AM CST

Common cold in babies

Learn the signs of common cold in babies and the best remedies for your little one

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Mother holding her infant Mother holding her infant

There's nothing common about a cold when a newborn or infant has one: The congestion, coughing and low-grade fever that can accompany a cold is enough to make even the most seasoned parents worry. Given babies will have anywhere from eight to 10 colds by the time they turn 2 years old, parents can feel more comfortable and confident when they quickly recognize the signs of a common cold and know remedies to help ease their baby's symptoms.

How do you know if your baby has a cold?

Signs of a common cold in babies are mostly the same as they are in adults – including runny nose, nasal congestion, cough and fever. However, symptoms can vary per child.

"Babies may not be able to tell their parents they're sick, but they show other signs that something is not quite right," says Michael Lee, M.D., pediatrician at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. "A lack of interest in feeding may be a signal of a sore throat; more frequent waking at night may signal congestion. Parents can take note of these signs, along with the more traditional symptoms, to start to recognize when their child is getting a cold."

Common cold symptoms in babies include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of interest in feedings
  • Cough
  • Fussiness
  • Slightly swollen glands

How do you treat a baby with a cold?

Unfortunately, there's no way to treat a baby with a cold, and cold medicine is not recommended for children under the age of 6. However, there are some remedies that can help your little one feel more comfortable and ease their cold symptoms:  

  • Saline spray for the nose to loosen congestion
  • Nose suction to remove mucus
  • Consider use of a humidifier at night and during naps to help break up congestion

"When your baby is fighting a cold, plan on some extra cuddle time and rocking to help soothe any discomfort," Dr. Lee suggests. "Parents may not feel like there is much they can do but comforting your little one can go a long way."

How long does it take a baby to get over a cold?

It can take anywhere from 7 to 14 days for a baby to fully recover from a cold. "Most of the time, the severe symptoms clear up within a few days," says Dr. Lee. "But some children may have a lingering cough or runny nose for as long as two weeks."

Dr. Lee recommends parents continue to help their little one stay comfortable as long as the symptoms last. "Keep saline spray and a bulb suction handy to minimize symptoms and improve comfort."

When should I take my infant to the doctor for a cold?

Colds usually clear up on their own, but there are some important symptoms to keep an eye on. These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious illness, such as respiratory syncytial virus – or RSV – which can be dangerous for babies.

If your child is under 3 months old and displays the symptoms of a cold, Dr. Lee recommends contacting the pediatrician. "A cold can quickly turn into something more serious in newborns, so your child's physician will want to follow the illness," he explains. Dr. Lee notes that it is especially important to contact the doctor immediately if a newborn under 1 month old has a fever.

If your child is over 3 months, contact your doctor if your baby experiences any of the following symptoms along with the cold:

  • Fewer than normal wet diapers
  • Temperature goes above 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pulling at ears or more irritable than usual
  • Red eyes or yellow or green discharge from the eyes
  • Persistent cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Stridor (a noticeable pulling in around the ribs when breathing)
  • Thick, nasal discharge for several days

"At the end of the day, you know your baby best. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician," Dr. Lee says.

I have a cold. Will my newborn catch it?

It can be hard to stop the spread of germs, especially when you're the one carrying the cold and caring for your baby. Take a few simple steps to help protect your child:

  • Wash your hands frequently, including after you blow your nose, sneeze or cough
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue or folded elbow
  • Wash bottles, pacifiers and dishes in hot, soapy water
  • Use separate towels, dishes and utensils

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