Babies and the common cold

Colds, coughs and sniffles are much more common for babies than adults. Find out how to help your little one stay healthy and get better soon when she does catch a bug


As adults we can generally expect to succumb to between two and four common cold viruses over the course of a year (usually during the winter months) but babies, with their immature immune  systems, are far more susceptible and it’s not unusual for them to suffer through as many as six colds in their first year, even more if they exposed to older children day-to-day. . There are things you can do to try and limit colds, such as following these winter health tips for the whole family, keeping your home healthy in winter and making sure your baby is dressed correctly in cold weather. But when your baby gets sick, whether it’s just snuffles or a full on cold, how do you deal with the infection?


The common cold

A cold can be a miserable thing, especially for young babies and their parents and particularly the first cold a baby experiences. There are numerous signs of a cold, most obviously  a runny or bunged up nose and sneezing, and consequent difficulties breathing normally. Your baby may also have a raised temperature,  a sore throat and cough. She may find it difficult to feed and lose her appetite, her eyes may appear irritated and she may be generally out of sorts.

As it’s common for babies to suffer through a number of colds it may seem as though one infection lingers for several weeks, particularly if she has frequent contact with other (especially older) children, but usually this will be a series of different infections.

Should I call the doctor?

If your baby is under three months you should call the doctor at the signs of a cold, as they could be the symptoms of something more serious. With older babies you don’t need to visit the doctor with every sniffle and cough but you should call your doctor if:

  • Your baby has a temperature of 39 degrees or above
  • Your baby has a relentless or nasty cough. Check out 10 signs a baby’s cough could be something more serious and cough medicines for babies.
  • The symptoms don’t clear up in ten days
  • Your baby has earache (she pulls at her ears and seems distressed)
  • If the cold interferes significantly with your baby’s feeding
  • If the cold makes your baby’s breathing very laboured, or the nostrils both flare out as she breathes
  • If she has a continual stream of thick, green snot
  • If your baby becomes listless
  • Follow your instincts, if you think your baby is really unwell, as opposed to a bit off colour, then contact the doctor

If  you suspect meningitis  it’s particularly important that you seek medical help immediately

Treatment for your baby’s cold

There’s no cure for the common cold  but you can help your baby recover by making her more comfortable as she works through the infection. You can take steps to both ease her suffering and perhaps prevent the infection becoming more ugly. If you do give a mild pain reliever then it’s important to use one specifically designed for babies and at the correct dosage: Don’t give babies and children aspirin.

  • Provide plenty of fluids. If you are still breastfeeding this is absolutely the best you can give her at this time. For children over one, increase the intake of diluted vitamin-C-rich juices
  • Keep her room comfortably warm, but prevent drying out the air by placing a small bowl of water above the radiators (out of your baby’s reach), putting a wet towel over the radiator, using a humidifier, or drying laundry in the room
  • For babies over 3 months a baby ibruprofen medicine (like Calpol or Medised) pr baby paracetamol will help bring down a temperature (see above).
  • Avoid over-the-counter cold remedies unless recommended by your doctor.
  • Keep your baby out of smoky rooms and places: smoke exposure will both irritate your baby’s already sore throat and can make babies and children more susceptible to infection in the first place.
  • Keep her nasal passages as clear as you can by wiping away snot frequently – be very gentle and keep the skin around the nose well moisturised to prevent soreness. As your baby can’t blow her own nose (until she’s around four years’ old) you may need to suction the snot out with a special baby nose suction bulb: Your doctor can prescribe saline solution drops to help loosen the mucus, and a humidifier in her room may help.
  • Try to keep her comfortable at night, as good rest is important to a speedy recovery.  If she’s congested, it may help to elevate her head slightly by putting something under her mattress. Keep her bedroom comfortably warm, but keep the humidity in the air.
  • Olbas now makes a gentler version of their justly famous decongestant that can be used for babies over three months, just sprinkle a couple of drops on a hanky placed near the baby but out of reach, put the hanky on a radiator to release the vapours, or sprinkle a few drops into your bowl of water if you’re using one to humidify the room.
  • If your child wakes up in the night distressed by congestion you can calm her by allowing her to resettle in a semi-reclined position against your own body so she can breathe more easily. With stubborn blockages it can help to take her into the bathroom and sit with her as you run the taps or shower to steam up the room and loosen the congestion. Try elevating the head-end of her mattress a little before trying to resettle her in her cot

A cold may not be much fun, but you can take comfort from the fact that not all her sniffly episodes are likely to be very uncomfortable, some will just be a minor irritation. And, of course, the exposure to these viruses helps your baby to develop her immune system to help her stave off more infections in the future.

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