Your baby’s first cold can really test your mettle as a parent.
There is usually a lot of discomfort and disruption to things like sleep and feeding.
Young babies naturally breathe through their noses, even when it is blocked.
Having a blocked nose makes it hard for your baby to feed well, and most parents notice their baby will wake more frequently with a cold.
Blocked Nose And Colds In Babies – Causes And Treatment
Trying to keep your baby’s nose clear can be tricky and knowing when to seek treatment is important.
What Causes Colds In Babies?
The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). These infections are caused by one of many viruses, with rhinoviruses being the most common.
Once your baby has been infected by a virus, he will generally develop immunity to that particular virus. But because there are so many types of viruses that can cause colds, it’s likely he will have more than a few colds each year.
Viruses causing the common cold are contagious and are passed on to your baby in several ways:
- Airborne: someone who has a cold can spread virus particles when coughing, sneezing or even talking
- Direct contact: a person with a cold can pass viruses on when touching your baby, especially on the face
- Surfaces: certain viruses can live on surfaces such as toys or utensils for a few hours.
Why Do Babies Catch Colds Easily?
One of the things parents discover early on is their baby will get pretty much everything going around.
Most adults will have about 2-4 colds each year. Children are more likely to have between 6-10 colds per year, and those children who attend a day care, preschool or school will average around 12 colds a year.
Babies are more susceptible to colds for a number of reasons:
- They haven’t developed resistance to or been exposed to many of the viruses which cause colds
- They are more likely to spend time with other children who have viruses, such as older siblings or babies in play groups, day care etc.
- While you can get a cold all year round, there are some times when we’re more likely to catch a virus, particularly from autumn to spring.
Babies are often said to have immature immune systems but recent research has discovered this isn’t necessarily the case. While babies’ immune systems work differently to adults, they may still be able to mount a strong immune defense.
The research team discovered that while T cells (a type of immune cell) in newborn babies are different to those in adults, it isn’t due to being immunosuppressed.
Instead, these T cells make a strong anti-bacterial molecule known as IL8, which activates white blood cells (neutrophils) to attack the pathogens invading the body.
Regardless, babies do catch colds a lot more frequently than adults. Until they are about 2-3 months of age, babies are given extra protection against infections through their mother’s breast milk. You can read more about Breastfeeding And Immunity – 6 Important Facts here.
What Symptoms Indicate Your Baby Has A Cold?
Often hindsight tells you that period of fussiness earlier in the week was your baby beginning to succumb to a virus. Often we feel a little out of sorts and lethargic when a virus is taking hold in our body.
Babies can't tell you how they are feeling, so other signs to look out for include:
- Stuffy and runny nose
- Clear nasal discharge that may become thicker and even turn green
- Irritability and restlessness
- Low grade temperature
- Your baby may sneeze, cough, develop a hoarse voice or have red eyes
- Loss of appetite.
How Can A Cold Affect My Baby?
Colds are uncomfortable, but usually aren't a serious health risk. However, babies might need some help because they instinctively breathe through the nose, even when it is blocked.
A stuffy nose can make feeding time difficult, as your baby may become irritable and fussy. If you are breastfeeding, this can affect the flow of your breast milk and potentially lower your supply. You can offer feeds more frequently even if they are short lived.
It can also help to feed your baby in a more upright position, to reduce the problem of congestion. If possible, try clearing your baby’s stuffed nose before offering a feed.
For more information, check out Breastfeeding A Sick Baby – What You Need To Know.
Treatment For A Cold
There is no cure for the common cold, and in most cases it takes time for a baby to get over the virus causing sniffles and congestion.
However, most parents like to feel they are doing something to ease the discomfort of a cold, such as:
- Ensure your baby gets plenty of rest
- Keeping fluids up can help reduce congestion and prevent dehydration, especially if your baby has a fever
- Unclog a stuffy nose with a squirt of breast milk, or use a nasal aspirator. If you choose saline drops, look for preservative free ones
- Keep your baby’s room well humidified to reduce congestion. Sitting in a steamy bathroom might also help
- Keep your baby’s nose from getting irritated by mucus, by applying some paw paw to the nostril area
- You can use a vapour rub on your baby’s chest, to help him breathe easier. Check it is appropriate for your baby's age.
Medications for coughs and colds are not recommended for young children and babies, as they contain ingredients which can potentially cause harm and haven't been proven to be effective. Paracetamol or ibuprofen for infants can be given to babies depending on age – check with your care provider or pharmacist about dosage if you are unsure.
Bear in mind, giving these medications will suppress symptoms such as fever, not treat the actual virus causing the cold. You might be interested to read Fever Phobia – What Is The Best Way To Treat A Fever for more information.
When Should You Call A Doctor?
Your baby is likely to be miserable but should clear the cold in five to seven days. Seek advice from your care provider if:
- Your baby has had cold symptoms for longer than a week, as a secondary bacterial infection may be possible
- Your baby is under three months old and has a temperature above 38 degrees or under six months with a temperature over 39 degrees
- Your baby’s cough worsens, turns into wheezing or gasping
- Your baby is having trouble breathing
- Your baby begins to pull or tug at ears frequently
- Your baby is coughing up green, yellow or rust coloured mucus
- If you are concerned about your baby in any way.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to access a doctor service which attends you at home, or have access to a 24 telephone health service. This can be useful if you are unsure about whether your baby needs medical attention or not.
Can I Prevent My Baby From Getting Colds?
The best way to protect your baby from colds is to stay away from anyone who has a cough or cold. If it is cold season, you can limit your young baby's contact with strangers and avoid public places where he is likely to be exposed to viruses.
It’s common these days for adults to take medication to suppress their symptoms so they can go about their daily business, but this doesn’t stop them from being contagious. If someone you know is unwell, ask them to not visit until they are better.
Try and keep your baby from putting things in his mouth such as other children’s toys or utensils. This is easier said than done, but it can help to reduce your baby’s exposure to viruses from others.
Babies who live with smokers generally have more colds and these last longer than usual. If you or your partner smokes, think about giving up. Avoid places where people are smoking.
Since most colds are caused by viruses which are contagious before you even know you are sick, your baby has probably already been exposed before you develop any symptoms. If you are breastfeeding, you can continue to do so, knowing your body is producing antibodies which will be passed onto your baby.
This can lessen the severity of symptoms in your baby if he catches the cold. Make sure you wash your hands and try to avoid touching your baby’s face to yours, avoid sneezing or coughing near your baby.