The first time my son Fletcher woke me after midnight, crying with a terrible cough and fever, I freaked out. There was no mistaking the hoarse, barking cough: He had croup. So my husband and I bundled him up and sped to the after-hours clinic. Just our luck -- it was closing down. "You could go to the emergency room," the last nurse suggested as she locked the door behind her. But as we weighed the dangers of exposing our baby to even more germs there, we realized that en route to the clinic, Fletcher had miraculously stopped coughing. I'd heard that cool night air could help a croupy bark -- and it had! We opted to settle him at home instead.
When the temperature dips, you know what's coming: the start of the sneezing, coughing, runny-nose season. It can be scary when your child gets sick, but you can handle most maladies with rest, fluids, a few home remedies, and hugs from Mom and Dad. Get the 411 on taking care of your under-the-weather wee one.
It looks like: Cough, stuffed-up or runny nose, occasional mild fever
What's happening: A cold is a minor infection in the nose and throat caused by any one of more than 200 viruses that your tot inhales or picks up from the things she touches. Stock up on tissues and saline nose drops. While your infant's immune system is maturing, she'll get about seven colds a year. "The first time was scary," says Boston mom Miriam Katz, recalling her daughter Dalia's bout at 5 months. "She was so congested that she couldn't breathe through her nose, and she didn't want to nurse. Taking her into our steam shower and using eucalyptus oil in the humidifier helped, and she got better fast."
Call the doctor: A cold isn't serious, but when your baby is younger than 3 months, a cold can quickly turn into croup or pneumonia. Monitor symptoms, and call the M.D. if they worsen or last more than three days. If your child is younger than 4 weeks and has a fever (100.4?F and up when taken rectally), take her to the ER. At this age, babies can get very sick very fast because they're not fully immunized, explains Stephen Turner, M.D., chief of pediatrics of SUNY Downstate at Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn. A spinal tap may be necessary to ensure that your baby doesn't have a bacterial infection such as meningitis. But if your child has a high fever (101?F and above), ear pain, eye redness, or discharge, or if she's not eating normally or isn't wetting as many diapers, it's more than a cold. You should dial your doc right away.