A-Z of winter baby health and wellbeing
Coughs, colds and tummy bugs are more common for your baby or toddler during winter. Read on and keep your little one fighting fit with our guide to winter health…
A is for Allergies
The change in season can cause allergies to flare up for your toddler or baby. Spending more time indoors can raise sensitivity to common allergy triggers, such as dust mites, animal dander or indoor moulds.
Typical allergy symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. As allergy symptoms in children generally flare up before the age of 4 or 5, now is the time to keep an eye on your toddler.
Here’s everything you need to know about baby allergies
B is for bronchiolitis
Bronchiolitis is a chest infection most common in babies under two. The smaller airways in the lungs become inflamed, resulting in rapid breathing and a cough.
It’s caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t help, but it usually clears up on its own. ‘If your child’s cough suddenly gets worse, or his breathing is laboured, seek medical help immediately,’ advises GP Dr Rob Hicks.
C is for croup
The virus that causes croup, characterised by a barking ‘seal-like’ cough, is more prevalent in winter.
To ease symptoms, make your child comfortable by propping her up on pillows, or sit her in a steamy bathroom to help moisten her airways and ease her cough (or stand in her bedroom with a boiling kettle for a portable steam effect).
The croup cough can sound loud and frightening, so reassure your child, and keep calm yourself. Although it sounds alarming, it should clear up within 24 to 48 hours.
D is for vitamin D
Known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, vitamin D is needed to help your baby absorb calcium.
In winter, the sun is less strong in northern Europe, so we may not get our daily dose, especially as we’re outdoors less.
However, if you want to supplement your child’s diet, seek your GP’s advice, as you will need to include a balance of vitamins.
E is for eczema
The change in temperature and central heating can cause flare-ups or dry out skin further for your baby.
‘An essential fatty acid supplement is useful for some children with eczema,’ says Dr Rob. ‘Use an emollient bath wash and moisturise afterwards.’
F is for fever
More common in winter, a fever is characterised by a high temperature and being flushed, hot and sweaty.
Your toddler’s symptoms should ease after three days, but it’s important to keep your toddler’s temperature down in the meantime.
You will need to strip him down to his vest, keep him hydrated and use light covers in bed. ‘His temperature should be less that 37.5 degrees celsius,’ says Dr Rob.
G is for get outside
Exercise can make a big difference to your child’s health and wellbeing – and yours.
Not only does exercise release hormones called endorphins, which boost mood, it improves overall health and fitness.
Wrap up and get outside for a brisk walk in the park – you’ll return home with colour in your cheeks and a smile on your face.
H is for humidifier
This works by adding moisture to the air, which can help if your child has a cough, cold or chest infection.
The more moisture there is in the air, the less irritated your baby’s mucous membranes will be,’ says Dr Rob. ‘Use a bowl of water on a radiator or buy a simple humidifier that you can leave in the room overnight with baby.’
I is for infection
Ear infections are common in younger children, especially in winter. When toddlers catch a cold, they produce mucus, which collects in the nasal passages and throat.
This can block the narrow passages of the ears, making it very difficult to ‘equalise’ air pressure either side of the eardrum, which can result in earache.
Treat the pain with infant paracetamol or ibuprofen, and ensure your child stays hydrated. If the problem persists, seek medical advice.
J is for just wash your hands!
Teach your little one to wash her hands after using the toilet as well as after coughing or sneezing, as this will help stop the spread of germs.
One study revealed that 52% of adults admitted to not washing their hands after coughing, so lead by example. Always use a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and use antibacterial hand gel if you’re out and about or not near a sink.
K is for kill the germs
American scientists found that zapping kitchen clothes in the microwave for just two minutes can kill 99% of germs and bacteria.
This includes nasties such as E-coli and salmonella, which are the two most common causes of food poisoning in the UK.
L is for local hospital
It’s vital that you know where your closest Accident & Emergency unit is, especially over holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter when your GP’s surgery opening hours may be different.
Have the address and contact number pinned somewhere handy, such as on the fridge, and, if you don’t have a car, include the number for a local taxi company.
If you do have a car, make sure you know the route so there is no risk of you getting lost in an emergency. Also work out roughly how long it takes to get there.
M is for meningitis
This is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord and can be very serious. Meningitis is often associated with septicaemia (blood poisoning), which is caused by the same bacteria.
In babies and young children, meningitis can cause fever, vomiting, refusal to feed, a high-pitched or moaning cry and irritability.
Look out for a bulging fontanelle on your baby (soft spot on a infant’s skull), blotchy or pale skin, rapid breathing, a floppy body or stiffness.
If septicaemia is present, a rash may develop. At first the rash looks like tiny red pin pricks then develops into purplish red blotches. If you see a rash developing, use the glass test. This involves pressing the rash firmly with the side of a glass tumbler. If the rash doesn’t fade, seek urgent medical help.
N is for NHS
If your child is ill and you need urgent advice, visit nhsdirect.nhs.uk or call 111.
O is for over-the-counter remedies
Infant ibuprofen or paracetamol provides pain relief for your baby without having to see your doctor – ask your pharmacist for advice.
Aspirin should never be given to children because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare disease that affects the liver and brain.
P is for pneumonia
This inflammation of the lungs is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can occur as a complication of a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.
If your child has a cough or fever lasting more than a few days, or her breathing is fast or laboured, seek medical advice. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics.
Q is for quit smoking
‘This helps your child to stay healthy, not just in winter but all year,’ says Dr Rob.
‘Children whose parents or guardians smoke are more likely to suffer from bronchitis, pneumonia and middle-ear infections. Babies exposed to smoke are at more risk of cot death. Stub it out!’
Visit smokefree.nhs.uk or call 0800 022 4332.
R is for research
Calpol’s iPhone app is a great resource – all the health tips and info you need at your fingertips.
It includes a dosage tracker, symptom checker, temperature tracker and information. The app will be free and available from the Apple Store.
S is for supplements
‘Supplementing your toddler’s diet will help support his immune system during winter,’ says Dr Rob.
The Department of Health recommends daily vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D for children under 5.
Children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years who receive Healthy Start vouchers are entitled to free vitamin supplements – see healthystart.nhs.uk for info.
T is for throat infections
These are rarely serious, but can be painful and make your child miserable. A virus infects the tissues of the throat, tonsils or larynx, making it difficult to swallow.
Keep your child warm and hydrated – warm lemon and honey drinks help (although honey is not suitable for children under 1 year).
Infant ibuprofen or paracetamol will bring down a high temperature and ease pain. Antibiotics will only help if the infection is bacterial – ask your GP.
U is for mouth ulcers
Most mouth ulcers in babies and young children are caused by a virus. They may be more common in winter as your child is more prone to other infections then, so her immunity is lower.
Ulcers look like pale yellow sores and can be associated with swollen glands under the jaw. They will heal over in about a week but can be painful, so treat with topical gel.
V is for vomiting
This is common in young children and can be due to a tummy bug, food intolerance or an infection elsewhere in the body.
It is important to ensure your child drinks enough fluids to avoid dehydration. If your toddler continues to be sick, is generally poorly or dehydrated, or has a headache and abdominal pain, seek medical advice. If there is blood in his vomit, seek medical advice immediately.
W is for whooping cough
Most children are vaccinated against this, so it’s rare. It starts with a short, dry cough and develops into bouts of coughing, followed by a sharp intake of breath – the ‘whoop’.
Antibiotics given in the early stages can help, and your doctor can show you simple techniques to help clear lung secretions. For babies under 6 months, seek urgent medical attention.
X is for X it better!
A little extra TLC goes a long way towards helping him feel better, so don’t be afraid to shower him with kisses. Cuddles have been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and promote feelings of calm.
Y is for yes to vaccination
As part of the national childhood immunisation schedule, all children in the UK are offered vaccinations against key diseases such as measles.
‘Vaccinations protect babies and young children from nasty, potentially life-threatening diseases,’ says Dr Rob. ‘Without doubt, the benefits hugely outweigh any potential risks, which is why I encourage parents to take up the offer of vaccinations for their children.’
For more information, visit nhs.uk/planners/vaccinations
Z is for get some Zzzs!
When your child sleeps, it gives his body the chance to rest, grow and heal itself. Babies under 1 generally need between 14 to 16 hours of sleep a day, while toddlers sleep for around 13 hours.
For more sleep recommendations for children, see the sleep section of MadeForMums
… Your essential first aid kit
Stock up with these and you’ll be prepared for anything!
Ideal for cleaning cuts and grazes
Bonjela teething gel
Or try homeopathic teething granules, such as Nelsons Teetha. Check out our guide to the best teething toys, too.
Suitable for 3 months, this relieves pain and fever and can be used for sprains, too
Suitable from 2 months, this relieves pain and fever.
Nasal drops or saline solution
Help unblock a stuffy nose. Olbas Oil on a tissue is also useful, but never put it directly on your child’s skin. Check out some of the best ways to ease your baby’s cold, too
Nelsons sootha cough syrup
With soothing lemon and honey
For rehydrating and replacing essential salts and minerals after sickness of diarrhoea
Digital thermometer – here are the best to buy from
Ideal for shock. The amount of alcohol in it is negligible – it’s perfectly safe for toddlers.