Baby colds are a fact of life: The average little one gets seven viral infections before he turns one year old. You can blame this frequency on baby's immune system, which is still developing—not to mention the fact that more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold. To make matters worse, baby colds can be a long, agonizing process; it's not unusual for babies to be sick for up to 10 sniffling, fussy, sleep-depriving days.
But until children are at least two to three years old, over-the-counter medicines are not recommended (and in some instances have not been proven to be effective). So what's a worried parent to do when his baby is sick?
First, call your pediatrician to make sure your child's cough or runny nose isn't a more pressing issue. This is especially important if your baby is younger than two or three months. Then, consider trying out these gentle, soothing remedies:
1. Make sure baby gets plenty of ZZZs
Sleep is usually the best cure at any age. The average healthy infant sleeps 16 to 20 hours per day, with that number tapering off to about 10 to 12 hours once they reach the age of four months. But when baby has a cold, you can expect her dozing time to increase even more.
So don't be concerned if your child is even sleepier than normal when she's sick—resting is her body's way of fighting off the bug. Put baby to bed as early in the evening as possible, and encourage naps throughout the day.
To help baby sleep when she has a cold, Parents magazine recommends elevating her head, since this can make it easier for her to breathe with a stuffy nose. If baby is under 3 or 4 months, she might even be able to sleep in her car seat. After that, stick to the crib; but a crib wedge or folded towel under the mattress (never inside the crib, as this could pose a suffocation hazard) can help raise her head, further easing discomfort.
2. Keep hydration levels up
It's normal for babies to want to nurse more when they're sick. After all, their tiny bodies are working hard to fight whatever virus has invaded, meaning they'll need plenty of sustenance to refuel. Juice isn't recommended for babies under one year old, and even water might not be necessary. According to What to Expect, breast milk or formula should be all the fluids that baby needs to stay hydrated. When baby has a cold or an ear infection, you might need to nurse or feed her more frequently, and at shorter intervals.
3. Help baby breathe easier by de-stuffing his nose
Babies tend to breathe through their noses during their first few months of life, making nasal congestion an especially difficult dilemma.
To clear baby's nasal passageways, Very Well Family recommends using either a bulb syringe aspirator (to gently suck the mucus out of baby's nostrils), or—for an infant—applying saline nose drops, which will help open nasal passages by loosening all the gunk inside his nose.
4. Use a humidifier to soften the air
Humidifiers can come in handy especially during the drier winter months, when less moisture in the air can exacerbate dry skin and other cold-related symptoms. And at any time during the year, humidifiers can ease cold-related coughing and congestion. Mayo Clinic recommends using a cool-mist humidifier around children instead of a warm-mist humidifier. The latter can burn a baby's sensitive skin if they get too close to the mist, and hot water can also lead to burns if the humidifier spills.
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Don't have a humidifier handy? In a pinch, steam can provide the same benefits. Try sitting with baby in the bathroom while running a hot shower.
Otherwise, you can get baby-safe humidifiers at Target. (Spoiler alert: You'll soon find a full lineup of Puracy baby products at Target as well. Stay tuned for further details!) Consider temporarily placing one in the nursery and running it while baby sleeps. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and refill the device with fresh distilled water daily to eliminate bacteria or mold buildup.
5. Keep baby's surrounding environment clean
As baby's caretaker, you have to make sure you're well enough to take care of her, too! Use proper cleaning practices to eliminate the virus from your home, so it doesn't spread to you or other family members.
Keep your hands clean by washing frequently with natural hand soap, and swap out hand towels in the bathroom daily. Wipe down surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom with a gentle but effective natural multi-surface cleaner. And make sure you get plenty of sleep yourself—the better rested you are, the less likely the virus is to affect you, too.
Just like for adults, it's typical for babies to catch colds in the winter months, since that's when we spend more time indoors and viruses are passed more quickly. But baby colds can happen at any time, which is why it's helpful to be prepared. Wash your hands frequently, and keep some bulb syringes, a humidifier, and your doctor's phone number at the ready.