Conquering Colds and Flu

Clearing a Stuffy Nose

A baby can't blow his nose, and even 3-year-olds, who may able to go through the motions, may not generate enough force to expel the mucus. Clearing a stuffed nose so baby can breathe is often a full-time job for the parent of a sick baby or toddler. William Sears, MD, the author of scores of parenting books, recommends what he calls "the nose hose and steam clean."

Place a few drops of an over-the-counter saline solution in baby's nostrils to loosen up the mucus and then suck it out with a bulb syringe. Then, for the steam clean part, take your child into a closed bathroom and run a hot shower for about 15 minutes. "The high humidity liquifies the nasal secretions," he explains. You can add five to 10 drops of eucalyptus oil (available at natural food stores) to the shower floor before turning on the water, suggests Dr. Kligler. The fumes help open up the nasal passages and sinuses.

Applying a salve with eucalyptus oil directly to baby's chest several times a day can be helpful, too. Johnson's makes such a cream, as well as a soothing herbal vapor bath.

Using a humidifier to keep the air moist is key, especially if your home has central heat, which dries out baby's mucous membranes, leaving them more inflamed and irritated. Dr. Sears recommends a warm-mist vaporizer because it adds heat as well as humidity.

However, warm-air vaporizers are often discouraged because they present a safety hazard. To prevent accidental burns due to your child's pulling down the unit filled with hot water, use the warm-mist version only when your baby is still in the crib.

Dr. Shubin also suggests creating a mini "steam room" over baby's crib. Place a humidifier on a chair next to the crib and spread a bed sheet over both for 15 minutes. The tent of humid air helps the baby breathe, he says. Of course, never leave a child unattended in this setup.

Once your child is crawling and walking, switch to a cool-mist humidifier and rinse it daily to prevent mold, which can make cold symptoms worse.

For an instant humidity fix -- and a nice change of scenery -- bundle up your sick baby and take him outside. Outdoor air is always more humid than the air in a sealed house. "We've taken 1-year-old Jackson on walks in the cool night to relieve pressure in his sinuses," says Nina Marchese of Quincy, Massachusetts. "Being outdoors cleared him right up!"

Keeping a sick baby's airway clear long enough for him to get some quality sleep can be tough. One solution that many moms use is to elevate their child's head. Becky Leibowitz of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, puts a pillow under 6-month-old Jonah's crib mattress. Rolled up towels or even phone books work well, too -- just be sure to place them under the mattress and not in the crib, where they can pose a suffocation hazard.

You can also let your child sleep in his stroller, slightly reclined, or in a car seat. "I've actually put the entire car seat in the crib," says Mary Lyon, author of The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood (Starburst, 1997). Of course Mom makes a good bolster, too. "To help my son nap when he's sick, I'll lie down on the couch on my side, then position him so he's almost sitting up against me," says Mary Rose Almasi of Somers, New York, mother of Jack, 2, and Grace, 4. "It's cozy for the baby and helps things drain so he can sleep."

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