Baby's First Cold & Flu Season

Simple solutions for comforting kids when they're down with a cold or the flu.

Understanding Colds

baby girl in jacket with eyes closed

The dreaded first cold hits just as your baby adopts a routine sleeping and feeding schedule. There's no avoiding it. Although babies are born with some of their mothers' immunity to illness -- which is enhanced by breastfeeding -- they're not completely protected against the ever-changing collection of viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. This means that most healthy babies will get six to eight colds before their first birthday. On a positive note, they will help your child begin to build up immunity of his own.

For many new parents, the real concern is deciding if their baby has just a cold -- or something more serious. Take a deep breath and face this challenge. You'll see it's easy to figure out once you know the signs.

Life Cycle of a Cold

The common cold comes on slowly and lasts about nine days. I find it helpful to break the cycle down into three days coming, three days here, and three days going.

  • Three Days Coming. During the first three days, when your child is contagious, she may seem fussier than usual, have a slight decrease in appetite, and even have a fever. If she is less than 3 months old and her rectal temperature is above 100.4 degrees F., call your pediatrician's office right away for advice and instructions. (Some good news: Once your child is a preschooler, a cold causes only a slight increase in temperature.) On the second or third day, you'll spot a runny nose, signaling that your child's immune system is fighting back. During this stage, the mucus is clear and thin, and runs constantly. I know it's difficult, but try not to be on tissue patrol; multiple attempts to get your kid to blow will bother her more than the runny nose.
  • Three Days Here. During the middle phase of a cold, the fever has usually gone away, and your baby might be less fussy and eating better. The mucus will thicken a bit and may turn light yellow. Your child will now have the classic "stuffy and runny nose." This is also when he could develop a cough; when a baby lies on his back, mucus drips down the nasal passages to the back of the throat and sets off a cough response to keep the fluid out of the lungs. Inevitably, your child will have a hard time sleeping.
  • Three Days Going. Like a houseguest who stays too long, colds can linger. In the final three days, the mucus thickens even more and becomes crusty. Your baby will act normal in most ways, eating well and resuming activity.

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