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Your baby has plenty of adorable firsts, like coos and smiles, but her first coughs and sniffles are no fun for either of you. It's difficult to see her suffer--especially since she can't tell you how she feels--and you may worry that she's having trouble breathing. "Most colds resolve in three to five days," says Anita Chandra-Puri, M.D., a pediatrician with Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group, in Chicago, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Usually, you just need to be patient and attentive while your baby gets better on her own." To help you get through cold season, we asked doctors for the answers to parents' most pressing questions.
Q: Can I prevent my infant from getting sick?
A: You already have. "Healthy, full-term babies are born with antibodies passed through the umbilical cord that help fight off illness for the first six months, and breast milk provides additional antibodies," says Sheela Rath Geraghty, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. You can't do much after that, especially if he has an older sibling, attends day care, or spends any time around smokers. If anyone in your household gets sick, make sure she sneezes or coughs into the crook of her arm or into a tissue.
Q: My baby's nose is so stuffy. How can I help her breathe?
A: To clear congestion, put two drops of saline solution into each nostril. Then, suction out the loosened mucus with a rubber bulb: Squeeze the bulb and insert the tip into one nostril; slowly release the bulb, then empty the fluid into a cup, and repeat on the other side. Using a cool-mist humidifier in your baby's room will also keep her nasal passages moist, which helps mucus flow out, says Dr. Chandra-Puri.
Q: Should I worry if my baby isn't eating as much as usual?
A: Sniffling and coughing might make him lose his appetite. Being congested also makes it more difficult for him to eat because he can't breathe through his nose while he swallows. To make sure he doesn't become dehydrated, offer him smaller meals more often, and suction the mucus from his nose about 15 minutes before feedings. If he gets fussy while eating, give him a breathing break. If he's showing signs of dehydration--he doesn't have at least one wet diaper every six to eight hours, is sleepy and difficult to rouse, or isn't making tears--call your pediatrician.
Q: How can I tell if this is more serious than a cold?
A: With a cold you'll typically notice a runny nose, coughing, a change in sleep pattern, and a mild fever. "Call your doctor if your infant is 3 months or younger and has a rectal temperature above 100.4°F," says Dr. Chandra-Puri. If she's older than 3 months and her temp is above 101.5°F, you can give her acetaminophen, but call your doctor if she doesn't respond to it or if her fever lasts longer than one day. Most cough or cold medicines aren't safe for kids under 6. Also call your pediatrician if your baby has a purple rash, rapid or labored breathing, or a worsening cough. In most cases, though, your baby simply needs extra TLC.
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Parents magazine.
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