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All babies are born with some immunity to illness. Even so, it takes time for their brand new immune systems to fully mature. This makes babies susceptible to viral infections, which cause colds.
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A baby can catch a cold at any age or time of year. In fact, they may get as many as 8 to 10 a year in their first 2 years. If your little one is around older children, their chances of getting colds may increase.
Common colds in newborns aren’t dangerous, but they can quickly escalate into conditions that are, such as pneumonia or croup. Any illness in a baby under 2 or 3 months old is a reason to call their pediatrician, especially if they’re running a fever.
A stuffed or runny nose may be your first clue that your newborn has caught a cold. Their nasal discharge may start out as thin and clear, but turn thicker and yellowish-green in color over several days. This is normal, and doesn’t mean your baby’s cold is getting worse.
Other symptoms include:
- coughing, especially at night
- reduced appetite
- difficulty breastfeeding or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion
- trouble falling or staying asleep
Colds in newborns have some of the same symptoms as other illnesses, such as the flu, croup, and pneumonia. This can make diagnosis at home more stressful for parents.
If your newborn has the flu, they may have chills, vomiting, and diarrhea in addition to common cold symptoms. They may also have symptoms you can’t see and that they can’t tell you about, including headache, muscle or body aches, or sore throat.
A cold can advance to pneumonia quickly. Symptoms include:
- flushed skin
- high fever
- abdominal pain or sensitivity
- worsening cough
- rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
Your baby may also develop a bluish tint to the lips or finger beds. This means your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen and should be taken to a hospital immediately.
If your baby’s cold escalates to croup, they may have difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and a barking cough. They may also make squeaky breathing sounds that sound like wheezing.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a serious cause of respiratory infection that can affect people of all ages. But it is particularly serious for babies, because their airways are not fully developed.
Babies are frequently hospitalized with bronchiolitis, an inflammatory respiratory condition that affects the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchioles). It’s the most common cause of hospitalization in newborns. Viral bronchiolitis is often caused by RSV.
Another name for a common cold is a viral, upper respiratory infection. They aren’t caused by bacterial infections and don’t respond to antibiotics.
Your baby’s pediatrician may take a blood test, urine test, or an eye or skin swab to determine if your baby’s illness is viral or bacterial. Bacterial infections sometimes develop as complications from viral infections. They can also cause illnesses, such as:
- sore throat
- ear infections
Colds in newborns aren’t unusual. The viruses which cause them can live in the air and on hard surfaces for short periods of time. That makes it possible for transmission to occur with or without direct contact to someone who’s sick.
Babies who are around older children may be more likely to get colds. But even a trip to the pediatrician’s office, a cuddle with a loving adult, or a stroll to the store can expose your baby to germs.
Breastfed babies have all, or part, of their mother’s immunity to the illnesses she has had or been exposed to. This doesn’t, however, mean breastfed babies are completely immune from colds.
A baby under 2 or 3 months old should be seen by a doctor if they have a cold. This will help safeguard against a more serious condition, and will also put your mind at ease.
Fever is one way your baby’s body works to fight off colds. Even so, a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in a baby who’s under 2 or 3 months old warrants a call to the doctor.
You should also call your doctor if your older baby, between 3 and 6 months, has a fever of 101°F (39°C) or higher.
No matter their age, a fever that persists for more than 5 days warrants a call to the doctor and likely a visit.
Keep an eye on all of your baby’s symptoms. They should see a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:
- persistent or croupy cough
- odd, unusual-sounding cry
- trouble breathing
- retractions — when the areas below and between the ribs and in the neck sink in with each attempt to inhale
- thick green mucus or bloody mucus from the nose or mouth
- fever for more than 5 to 7 days
- rubbing their ear, or other sign of physical discomfort or pain anywhere in their body
- signs of dehydration, such as not wetting as many diapers as they usually do
- refusal to nurse or take a bottle
- bluish tinge around nail pads or lips
You know your little one best. If they just don’t seem like themselves, call their pediatrician so you can rule out anything more serious than a cold. That’s what the doctor is there for.
Home treatment for a newborn’s cold consists of helping them feel comfortable. Do’s and don’ts include:
- Give plenty of liquids, including breast milk or formula (if your baby doesn’t take breast milk). A small amount of water may be offered to your baby if they’re over 6 months old.
- Suction out nasal mucus using saline drops and a suction bulb.
- Moisturize the air with a humidifier. Ask your doctor if they recommend a warm or cool mist type. Warm humidifiers may pose a burning risk to older, curious children.
- Antibiotics don’t work on viruses and shouldn’t be given as treatment for a cold.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducers, including Infants’ Tylenol, aren’t recommended for babies under 3 months unless directed by your baby’s doctor. Check with your pediatrician before giving any type of OTC medication to a baby under 1 year. These medications may also not be recommended for a baby who’s vomiting.
- Aspirin should never be given to a baby or child.
- Cough and cold medications aren’t recommended for children under 2 years.
- Vapor rubs, even those formulated for babies, can be irritating to airways. Don’t use these either on the skin or in a vaporizer.
- Don’t let your baby sleep on their stomach, even if they have congestion.
There are no other treatments for an infant’s cold except the passage of time. The best thing you can do is make sure that you or another caring adult stays close by to provide comfort. This will help your baby relax and get the rest they need.
The average cold may last as long as 9 or 10 days. This includes the period of time when babies don’t display many symptoms but are contagious, as well as the period of time when they’re starting to act normally but still have crusty noses and nasal discharge.
Breastfeeding your baby can help boost their immunity. Even small amounts of breast milk supplemented with formula can help. This is especially true of antibody-rich colostrum, the first type of breast milk you produce when your baby is born.
You can’t keep your baby in a hermetically sealed environment. But you can help avoid exposure to some germs:
- Wash your hands often and ask visitors to do the same.
- Avoid contact with people who are ill, and wipe down surfaces that have been touched by people who are coughing or sneezing.
- Ask people who come into contact with your baby to cough or sneeze into their elbows, rather than into their hands.
- If possible, limit your baby’s contact with older children.
- Make sure the adults and children around your newborn are current on their pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine and flu shots.
Colds are caused by viruses and are common in newborns. Even breastfed babies get colds, although their immunity is greater than babies who aren’t breastfed.
Colds aren’t serious, but they can turn into more serious illnesses. It’s important to have your pediatrician look at your baby if they have a cold and are under 2 or 3 months old — especially if they’re running a high fever or have other symptoms.
Don’t hesitate to make this phone call! Your baby’s doctor will be happy to help rule out more serious conditions and put your mind at ease.