When Your Child is Sick

How to help both of you feel better

There is a good chance your infant will get sick at some point in the first six months. Most illnesses are caused by viruses and usually resolve on their own, but you can help to make your baby more comfortable along the way. Tips on how to soothe your ailing child follow.

For nasal congestion, put one to two saline drops in each side of the nose to help clear it — you can also use a nasal suction bulb two to three times a day or a cool mist humidifier in your baby’s room. Over-the-counter cold medications are not recommended for babies. Be prepared: Some cough and congestion can last up to three weeks.

Call your healthcare provider if your baby:

Is working hard to breathe (nostrils flaring or skin pulling in above the breast-bone, below the rib cage or between the ribs).
Has blue/dark lips or tongue.
Develops a fever several days after the onset of a cold.


Vomiting & Diarrhea

Babies with vomiting and diarrhea need lots of fluids. If your baby vomits more than once, give him frequent small sips of a rehydrating solution. Once the vomiting has stopped for a few hours, try re-introducing milk or formula. Diarrhea often (but not always) follows vomiting and may last for days or even weeks.

Call your provider if your baby:

Shows signs of dehydration (cries without tears, has a sticky instead of a wet mouth, has fewer then three wet diapers in a 24-hour period).
Has vomiting that lasts more than one day without improvement.
Vomits blood or bright green fluid.
Has blood in the stool.
Has diarrhea for more than two weeks.

Fever is the body’s natural defense against infection, and can go hand-in-hand with colds, and other common viruses. Fever itself is rarely harmful, but it can make your baby uncomfortable. Make sure to give your baby plenty of fluids (milk is ok). Your provider can teach you how to use a thermometer and can tell you the correct dose of acetaminophen, a fever reducer, also. Do not use ibuprofen for babies under six months, and never swab a baby with alcohol or cold water to try to bring down a fever.

Call your provider if your baby:

Is under three months old and has a temperature above 100.3° F.
Is three-to-six months old and has a temperature above 102.2° F or has had a fever for longer than 24 hours.
Shows signs of dehydration.
Has a seizure.

For any illness, if your baby seems very sick or fussy and does not improve with your interventions, call your provider.

Caring for your sick baby doesn’t have to be scary if you know what to do. A little TLC can make both your baby (and you) feel a lot better.

Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC. She is also the mother of three young children.

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Written by Elizabeth Shashaty, MD

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