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How To Care For A Sick Baby And Keep Your Sanity

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As parents we quickly learn that one of the most frustrating parts of parenthood in the early years is caring for a sick baby. Not only is a cold tough on the baby, but it’s tough on the parents too. Here are some tips to help you care for your sick infant and keeping your sanity in tact.

What to do when Your Baby is Sick

Caring for a Sick Baby and Keeping Your Sanity

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I’ll never forget the start of Nick’s first real cold. Especially since it turned into a terrible sinus infection, but that’s a story for another time.

He was around 6 months old at the time. I had an idea that something was up when he took a few really long naps that were very out of character for him. Then the fussiness and congestion set in and they stuck around for quite some time.

No parent likes to see their child sick, and caring for a sick baby is the worst. Figuring out what’s wrong is in many ways just a total guessing game. They often cry for long stretches of time and they might not want to ever be put down. It can be exhausting on a parent, and it can be scary when you know they’re upset but you can’t figure out why.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us would gladly trade places with our sick kiddos. Besides not wanting to see them upset and miserable it’s frustrating to parents because there is little that we can do to help them.

No matter what our thoughts are though, as a parent you quickly learn that you’ll have to nurse your child through many colds every year. In fact, the average child will catch six to ten colds a year. For kids that attend daycare or school that can increase to as much as 12 colds a year.

Plus we all know that colds don’t go away in a day either. Most colds last at least a week, so we’re talking about a lot of days when we have a fussy and unhappy sick infant on our hands!

Symptoms and Figuring out what’s Wrong

Since our little ones can’t tell us what feels bad it’s up to us to figure it out. The first thing to do is check for symptoms. The basic symptoms you’re looking for when caring for a sick baby are coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and nasal congestion.

Although the only symptom you may see is fussiness. This can especially be true at the start of the cold.

Fevers are also a possibility with a cold. You can check to see if your baby has a fever with a rectal thermometer, a digital ear thermometer, or a digital forehead thermometer.  It’s important to note that different types of thermometers have different number ranges for what is considered a fever. This post has really good information on the temperature ranges if you are unsure of what temperatures you should be looking for.

On a side note, can we talk for a second about how awesome those non-contact digital forehead thermometers are? You can even take a temperature reading while your baby is sleeping without having to wake them! I wish I had known about them when Nick was a baby.

Getting Nick to hold still to take his temperature was really difficult. A non-contact thermometer would have made my life a lot easier.  Now even our doctor’s office uses them. This is seriously the only type of thermometer I’ll use now. I highly recommend checking this thermometer out if you’re in the market for a new one.

When Nick would get sick I would figure out his symptoms and then I would reach for my “Baby Bible”. This was actually a book that I was given when Nick was born, but I turned to it for help all the time. I especially used it to try and figure out what ailments Nick was suffering from. The book was called Eat, Sleep, Poop and was written by Dr. Scott W. Cohen. If there is one baby infromation book I feel every parent needs this would be it! Figuring out what Nick had on my own kept me from running back to the doctor’s office every two weeks to figure out what he was sick with.

How to Treat the Cold

As adults, when we realize that we’re sick we usually take some sort of medicine and do our best to get through it. There isn’t really any medication that you can give to a sick baby though. Still, there are some things that you can do to help your sick infant feel better.

Fever

An infant has a fever if their temperature is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If your child is under two months of age and has a fever then you should contact your doctor immediately. For children older than two months you can give them infant Tylenol (acetaminophen) every four hours. If your child is six months or older than you also have the option of giving them infant Motrin (ibuprofen) every six hours.

Dr. Cohen does state in his book that since Tylenol and Motrin are two different medicines they can both be given in rotation. Meaning that one medicine can be given between doses of the other one. Only do this though if your child’s fever doesn’t go down before the next dose of the first medicine. Nick didn’t often get fevers, but I did switch back and forth between the two medicines when Nick had a very high fever from bronchitis just before he was a year old. You should contact your child’s doctor if their fever lasts longer than 72 hours.

Moisture

Moist air can really help congestion. This can be accomplished with a humidifier or cool-air vaporizer. If you don’t have one of those items then another option is to take your child into a steamy bathroom.

The one we used in Nick’s nursery was a Crane USA Filter-Free Cool Mist Humidifier for Kids. These humidifiers are made to look like animals and are simply adorable! Nick’s was a dog. Sadly that isn’t an animal design that they sell any more, but there are still so many other cute animal options. You can often find them for around $30 which is a great price. If you see one under $25 grab it. That’s a really great deal.


Positioning

Sick babies prefer being upright when they’re sick. Tummy time likely won’t go over too well when your little one isn’t feeling well. I found with Nick that he liked being in his swing, bouncy chair, or Bumbo seat. Of course that was if he was even willing to let me put him down.

Sleeping

Babies may sleep better if they are put in a slight reclined position. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend letting babies sleep on anything that isn’t a firm sleep surface. You can help your child to sleep in their crib by putting something under the top part of the mattress. This will lift it a few inches to help elevate the baby’s head. You can do this by putting a wedge or a rolled up towel under the head of the mattress.

When Nick was sick we had him sleep in his portable swing or his Fisher-Price Newborn Rock ‘n Play Sleeper in our bedroom. While it goes against what The AAP recommends there are pediatricians that feel swing sleeping is safe. In fact in The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep by Dr. Harvey Karp talks about how in favor he is of using swings as a sleep aid. From birth Nick never slept in anything but his swing, so I never thought much of putting him back in one when he got sick.

Nick was the textbook baby of the philosophy behind The Happiest Baby on the Block , also written by Dr. Karp. One of the steps to help a baby sleep is to swing, and Nick needed that. I will say that in 2013 (the year that my copy of The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep was published) it states that there were no records anywhere of a child that had died from choking (as has happened with car seats) while sleeping safely in a fully reclined swing.

No matter where you choose to put your baby down to sleep a good amount of sleep is always important when it comes to fighting colds. You should do what you can to safely help your sick baby sleep. It’s always a good idea though to talk to your child’s pediatrician to decide what is the best and safest sleeping location when caring for a sick baby.

Fluids

As with all colds it is important that babies get enough fluids. As long as your baby is able to eat normally with their cold then the amount of breast milk or formula that your baby is getting should be enough fluid.

Feeding

Feeding times can be very difficult when caring for a sick baby due to congestion. To help make things easier for your little one offer more frequent feedings as your sick infant may eat less at a time. It also helps `o take periodic breaks during the feeding to allow your baby some breathing time. If they still are having a difficult time breathing then you can use saline drops (salt water) to help loosen up the mucus and then you can suck it out with a rubber bulb syringe or nose aspirator.

TLC

There is only so much that you can do when caring for a sick baby to help them feel better. The very best medicine though is some TLC from mom and dad.
Caring for a Sick Baby: Information and Tips to get You Through it - rockabyeparents.com

Things to Avoid When Caring for a Sick Baby

As often seems to be the case with babies there many things that you’ll want to avoid when caring for your sick infant.

Medications

Cough and cold medicine should never be used for infants and young children. Topical salves and vaporizer additives are also not recommended as they can create breathing problems in infants and young children. You also don’t want to give any Tylenol or Motrin to a child that is dehydrated or vomiting continuously.

Mattress Raising

When it comes to raising up your child’s mattress there are some important things to note. First, you want to raise the actual mattress and not the legs of the crib. This could cause the crib to be unstable and topple over.

Second, be sure that what you use to prop the mattress up is under the bottom of the mattress and not directly under the child to prevent any chance of suffocation. Also, don’t tip the mattress up too much or your little one will slide down.

Nose Suction

Limit the number of times you suction mucus out of your little one’s nose. The suctioning can actually cause irritation and inflammation in the tissues in the nose causing more congestion. Truthfully the majority of the mucus is found far back in the nasal passageways, and you can’t get far enough back to suck that out.

The best rule of thumb is if the baby is not bothered by the mucus it’s best to just leave it alone. Still, you don’t want your little one to get dehydrated, so it is a good option if it helps them eat.

What to do When Your Baby has a Cold

Feeling Better

In then end what you need to remember when you have a sick baby is that a common cold truly is common. You can find cold germs everywhere you go.  There is only so much that you can due to prevent your baby from getting sick.

As a parent I know how frustrating it is that you can only do so much to help your little one feel comfortable when they’re sick, but they will get through it.  With these tips you can hopefully help give them a little relief, which can help you get a little relief as well.

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Disclaimer: All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

Cameron Jackson

Tuesday 9th of April 2019

Hey Elizabeth, Great post! The information you have shared through this article is really impressive and very helpful to me. Thanks for sharing the valuable information with us and I really loved your post. Keep Posting Similar articles.

How to Manage Cold Symptoms Like a Pro

Friday 31st of August 2018

[…] How to Care for a Sick Baby While Keeping Your Sanity – Rock-a-Bye Parents […]

ElliotC

Friday 13th of July 2018

sleep is one thing we are lacking recently - Elliot our 15month old hasnt slept a full night since about 10 weeks old. Isaic our 4 and half yearo ld has slept a full 12 hours since being 6 weeks old so weve got opposite ends of the scale. However the last 15 months have been very difficult!

weve tried everything you could possibly think of. we even purchased a 4moms rockaroo to see if that helped settle him into a deeper sleep at night - NOPE - just a deep sleep in the afternoon and then wide awake until 11pm, then awake at 1am, 2am, 3am 5am and 6:30am...... AARRRGGGHHH

Elizabeth

Saturday 14th of July 2018

I'm sorry you're struggling with sleep issues though. My little guy sounds like your 4 year old. Nick was sleeping through the night by 5 weeks. I've actually been looking into baby sleep information for the blog, so I may have some good information to share on that soon, but not soon enough for you it sounds like. Hang in there!

ElliotC

Monday 4th of December 2017

There is nothing worse than a sick baby. Our baby boy who is 7 months old has been sick for 4 weeks and all he wants is comfort. It's not easy to be the only comfort for him as a snuggle helps him sleep but finding somewhere to put him down so jobs can be done is difficult. Using a bouncy chair was great for nap times instead of his cot and for play time a door bouncer was very useful... both you have advised here.

What we didnt know was around Moisture in the air - THis is a great tip an having read this I have immediately purchased a humidifier to hopefully once and for all get rid of the darn cold...

Great post and some amaing links to more fantastic information

Elizabeth

Tuesday 5th of December 2017

Oh man, four weeks is such a long time. I hope the humidifier helps give your little one some relief!

Grandma

Sunday 13th of November 2011

The two of You are doing such a good job. I have enjoyed all your writing and of course I love all the pictures. Thanks.

Elizabeth

Sunday 13th of November 2011

Thank you Grandma :-). We're having a lot of fun doing it. I'm hoping to add more posts about Nick specificly. I'm sure you'll really like those ones.