Baby winter health check

Our guide to helping your little one survive the season of sniffles and sneezes

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Common cold

Colds can be caused by any one of more than 100 different viruses that infect the soft lining of the nose. The main symptom is, of course, the ever-runny nose.

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“As well as a snuffly nose, babies can also get sticky eyes (or conjunctivitis) and have difficulty feeding when they have a cold,” says GP and parenting author Dr Carol Cooper.

“To loosen congestion, sit in the bathroom with your little one while the shower’s running and let her breathe in the steam,” says private health visitor Julia Headland. “Try using a humidifier or a bowl of water on the radiator in her room to moisten the air.” Keep your baby hydrated too. If you’re breastfeeding offer more frequent feeds, and if you’re formula feeding, give water between feeds to increase her fluid intake. A topical decongestant can help but ask your pharmacist for advice.

Winter Vomiting

Winter vomiting has many grim symptoms – projectile vomiting, muscle pain, diarrhoea, lethargy, nausea and stomach cramps.

Winter vomiting is dangerous for babies under 1 due to the risk of dehydration, signs of which are drowsiness, a sunken or tense fontanelle, sunken eyes, dry nappies and/or strong smelling or dark urine, dry mouth, and rapid breathing. “If you’re breastfeeding, offer more feeds plus sips of water. If you’re formula feeding, offer extra sips of water between feeds,” advises Carol. “Seek medical help if you think your baby’s dehydrated or if she’s not keeping fluids down,” adds Julia.

Bronchiolitis

This highly contagious illness causes the tiny passages in the lungs to fill with mucus so air can’t get through.

Bronchiolitis mainly affects babies aged between 3 and 6 months and can be dangerous. “It starts with symptoms similar to a cold – usually a snuffly nose, fever and irritability.

These develop into a persistent cough and breathlessness, sometimes leading to problems with feeding,” says Gill. Unfortunately there isn’t a medicine that can help and antibiotics won’t be any use either. It’s a case of keeping your baby hydrated and watching out for any complications with breathing. If those happen, you need to get medical help immediately.

Chest infections

Chesty cough, breathing difficulties and chest pain all point to a chest infection, which is caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the airways leading down to the lungs or the lungs themselves.

“With most chest infections, babies and toddlers may get a runny nose, snuffles and a fever and they may be tired, listless, grumpy and off their food,” says Carol. “Also look out for breathlessness and a wheeze.” Fluids are key, so make sure they’re topped up. “A warm bath or steamy bathroom can help loosen mucous. But see your GP if you’re worried or if your child has any difficulties breathing,” adds Carol.

3 facts about fever 

1. Your child has a fever if she’s tired, clammy or sweaty, irritable, and if her temperature is over 37.5ºC (99.5ºF).

2. Fever isn’t an illness; it’s a defence mechanism. Children can get a fever after immunisations, while teething, or it can be a symptom of a viral or bacterial infection.

3. A fever can be eased by sponging your child’s forehead with lukewarm water, making sure they drink plenty of fluids, and taking children’s paracetamol, but check with your GP first.

Mums’ stories

“Hannah got bronchiolitis at 5 weeks old. At first, I thought it was a cold, but after two days she became drowsy and stopped feeding properly. When she developed trouble breathing we took to A&E and she stayed in hospital for 9 days and was fed through a drip.”

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Margo Brittain, 38, from Hampshire, mum to Scarlett, 4, and Hannah, 9 months

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