Preventing illness during the winter for baby
Winter is coming, winter is coming! I’m sorry, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and couldn’t resist. But seriously, winter is coming! It can be a scary season for moms of infants and toddlers. What do you need your first winter with baby? How do you keep baby healthy in the winter? That’s the age old question.
Last winter was my first as a mother and I was absolutely terrified! As a healthcare provider I am well aware of how quickly a baby can change from being healthy to being hospitalized. Illnesses that are no big deal for an adult can be dangerous and life threatening to babies. It just so happens that these illnesses are more common during the winter.
Most of us have to send our children to day cares while we are at work. Unfortunately, daycare centers get hit especially hard during the winter season. Have you been to one lately? It seems as if every baby and toddler has a runny nose regardless of what season we are in. Daycare workers work extremely hard to prevent germs from passing from one child to the next but somethings are just inevitable. If your baby hasn’t been sick yet, hold on because this winter with baby may be rough!
Winter with baby:
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What can you do to keep baby healthy this winter?
Hand washing is the key to keeping germs away and preventing infections. Germs are passed when we touch money, counter tops, table tops, handrails, door knobs, or even another person’s hands. At some point we rub our eyes, wipe our noses, or touch our mouths, transferring germs. Without hand washing the cycle continues and we could end up with sick people. Luckily for us, our immune system is always trying to protect us. Its job is to prevent harmful bacteria and viruses from ever entering our bodies. If they somehow sneak in, our immune system destroys them. It’s our body guard!
We have to be our baby’s body guard.
Babies immune systems are underdeveloped at birth. It starts to mature at 6 months but according to healthychild.com, it doesn’t fully develop until a child is around 4 or 5 years old. So, for a while, our babies don’t have a defense system against infections. They need us to protect them!
When you have visitors, make them wash their hands with soap as soon as they enter your home and especially before touching baby. As parents, sometimes we forget that we need to wash our hands too. Hand washing is crucial after diaper changes, touching raw meat, and using cleaning supplies. The CDC says hand washing with soap could protect 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory-infections. We want to do all we can to keep our babies healthy.
Breastfeeding is another layer of protection while baby’s immune system develops. Mother nature allows the mother’s body to produce antibodies (a defense system formed in our blood that destroys substances that can lead to infection) to anything in her environment that can cause a disease or lead to an infection. Mom passes these antibodies to her baby through her breast milk and protects baby from those invaders.
This is why it’s recommended that mom continues to breastfeed even when she’s sick. She will pass on those antibodies to her baby. It doesn’t guarantee that baby won’t get sick but it will lessen the severity of the illness.
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What illnesses should I be most concerned about this winter with my baby?
1. The common cold
The common cold is a virus that enters your body through your mouth, eyes, or nose. I have a hard time explaining this concept to my family. They think I’ll catch a cold by going outside without a coat, but that’s not the case. There is no treatment for a virus, just time and treating the symptoms.
Symptoms of the common cold:
The most obvious cold symptoms in a baby include a runny nose, congestion, cough, and fever.
My baby had several colds last winter but it felt like one long cold to me! We were constantly in her pediatrician’s office. Mayo Clinic says when babies are under 3 months, a cold can progress quickly into croup, pneumonia, or worse. Take them to see a doctor sooner rather than later!
Typically, a cold should resolve within 2 weeks. As long as your baby isn’t having trouble breathing, is making their normal amount of wet diapers, and fever stays under 100 you shouldn’t be alarmed.
Babies breath primarily through their nose and this can be problematic when they have a cold. You want their nasal secretions to drain down, otherwise they can end up with an ear infection or a sinus infection. Saline nasal sprays are your friend, although your baby won’t agree!
Until your baby learns how to blow his or her nose, you’ll have to do it for them. The best accomplice to the nasal spray is the NoseFrida. I’ll have to admit when I first saw it I was grossed out! The idea of sucking snot out of my baby’s nose made my skin crawl. However, when I saw how much mucus I cleared from her nose and how much better she sounded, I became an instant fan. You won’t survive the winter with baby without it.
It’s also a good idea to run a cool mist humidifier at night to help with congestion. The heat from your heater dries out the air which causes baby’s nose and throat to become dry. The humidifier adds moisture back into the air and relieves the congestion and dry throat.
If you don’t have a humidifier, steam works as well. Make the bathroom steamy by running hot water in the shower. Take the baby in the bathroom and close the door. Allow baby to inhale the steam until the congestion lessens. It usually takes around 10-15 minutes.
Hand washing, not allowing sick people around your baby, sanitizing baby’s toys, washing sheets and towels.
The flu is scary and I was afraid of my baby catching it. I felt a little better when she turned 6 months and was able to receive the flu vaccine. I know vaccines in general is a controversial subject but I feel strongly about the flu vaccine. A high school classmate of mine lost her baby girl to the flu in 2014 and changed my outlook forever.
The flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that your baby won’t get the flu but its the best protection against getting it!
Flu symptoms in a baby:
According to the CDC: Fever, loss of appetite, congestion, runny nose, lethargy.
You should get the flu vaccine if your baby is under 6 months. Have those that will be in direct contact with your baby get it too. Prevent sick people from being around your baby and avoid crowds.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus can look a lot like the common cold. It presents as a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, and loss of appetite. It can also cause wheezing. The problem with this virus is that it can progress into pneumonia or bronchiolitis.
There is no treatment for RSV. However, get medical help if your baby seems to be having a hard time breathing, is turning blue, and is very lethargic.
Like with most viruses, practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding sick people is the key to keeping baby healthy.
Croup is what occurs when inflammation develops in combination with an airborne virus. It sounds horrible (a barking cough) but the bark is much bigger than the bite! I couldn’t help that play on words!
Seriously, you will know if your baby has croup. They will sound like a barking seal. The sound is unmistakable. It is often worse at night, which is when most parents notice it. Your baby may also have a fever and make high pitched sounds when inhaling.
The humidifier and steamy shower will be your best friend! This is also the time to open windows and let the cool air in. The moisture will do wonders for baby and ease their cough.
It is important to keep baby hydrated as fluids will help loosen up the mucus. Elevating your baby’s head is also helpful. Some parents will put a wedge under the crib mattress (same technique that is used when baby has re-flux). SIDS is a risk factor for babies under 12 months so avoid using a pillow for elevation.
If your baby has trouble swallowing, is drooling excessively, can’t catch their breath, lips and/or nail beds are turning blue, or is hard to arouse, it is time to call 911!
Croup is contagious so be sure to clean and disinfect toys, counter tops, and change linens frequently.
Pneumonia is often seen after a baby has had a cold or another type of upper respiratory infection, like RSV. It definitely is not something that you want to play with. Pneumonia can either be bacterial or viral. Of the two, viral pneumonia is less severe.
Bacterial Pneumonia has a sudden onset and is usually characterized by a high fever, rapid breathing, fast pulse, coughing, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Babies with bacterial pneumonia can also have a difficult time breathing. This is often exhibited as flared nostrils or visibly seeing the chest retract (sink in) when baby is trying to breath. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics.
Viral Pneumonia is more likely to occur after a common cold or the flu and is the type that most babies get. Unlike with bacterial pneumonia, the symptoms start slowly and progressively get worse. You may see fever, worsening cough, wheezing, weakness, and rapid breathing. Babies who have developed viral pneumonia are more susceptible to developing bacterial pneumonia. Viral pneumonia typically resolves on its own.
If your baby just isn’t him or herself, doesn’t want to play, has a lack of appetite, is coughing up anything other than clear mucus, and has a fever, it’s time to go to the doctor. Pneumonia could be the culprit.
Strep throat can occur in infants but it is not very common. Symptoms of strep throat include fever, refusal to nurse or drink from a bottle, red rash on arms and legs, and irritability. It is caused by bacteria so the treatment is antibiotics.
Baby illness symptom checker
Being a new mom can be scary especially when dealing with a sick baby. You don’t want to be the mom that overreacts about everything but you also don’t want to be the mom that downplays something serious. The thing is, you just don’t know what you don’t know. Here is a great source for checking your baby’s symptoms and trying to see which illness they have. Of course you always want to consult your baby’s pediatrician first. But use this resource to help in communicating what you’re seeing.
Your Toolkit for Winter with Baby
We created the Infant Over The Counter Dosage Guide to help you know EXACTLY what dose to give baby or toddler in the event of teething pain or fever. This guide will help you navigate the winter season to feel comfortable and safe!
Get your over the counter dosage guide now!
Hopefully you can see there is a common theme here. In order to keep baby healthy and you for that matter, it is important to practice good hand hygiene. That means washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Washing your hands in between diaper changes and whenever you come in contact with bodily fluids. Disinfecting household surfaces and toys. Making sure that visitors wash their hands when they come and visit. Don’t allow sick people to come into your home or be around your baby. Avoid taking your baby to crowded places like shopping malls, sporting events, and grocery stores.
Don’t forget to wash your baby’s hands too! Make sure to avoid using antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers! The alcohol concentration in hand sanitizers can be lethal to both babies and toddlers. Baby wipes are safe though and we know you have plenty of those!
If your baby does get sick, please keep him or her home. Do not send your baby to daycare knowing they have a contagious virus like RSV. It’s not fair to the other babies and your baby could end up getting reinfected. Plan ahead and make sure you and your partner have sufficient PTO to survive the winter season.
For your first winter with baby, don’t forget to get your NoseFrida, Saline Nasal Spray, Cool Mist Humidifier and OogieBear. The OogieBear is perfect for getting those pesky little buggers. I would be lost without mine.
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Is this your first winter as a mom? What are you doing to prepare? Share with us in the comments!
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