How to deal with your baby’s first illness

Your baby’s first cold can be unsettling, but there are steps you can take to hold this first brush with infection off as long as possible.

First, if at all possible, keep your young infant away from sick people (especially their mucus!). Inevitably, daycares tend to be harbors for illness. But even babies who stay at home can and do get sick. Practice good hand hygiene. Clean toys and other surfaces where germs may reside. People who come into close contact with your baby and can get an influenza vaccine should do so. Currently, the flu vaccine is only licensed for those 6 months and older.

If your baby does get sick, it’s good to know what kind of illness you’re dealing with. When the doctor says, “it’s just a cold,” you can equate that with a virus, not a bacterial infection. Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics. Unfortunately, supportive or symptomatic care is all you can provide. A virus has to run its course, which may take several days. Meanwhile, you may have to fight fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater), snot pouring from the nose, coughing, and fussiness.

You can provide comfort and fever control with acetaminophen and cool washcloths. Use over-the-counter saltwater saline nose drops to loosen mucus so that it can be suctioned out. A variety of nasal aspirators are on the market, including the standard bulb syringe, electric-powered suction (i.e. Graco NasalClear®), and human-powered suction (i.e. BabyComfyNose™ and NoseFrida®). If too much congestion makes feeding difficult, try giving smaller volumes more frequently. Sometimes a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer helps. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications should be avoided.

When it comes to taking your baby’s temperature, pediatricians prefer using a rectal thermometer for babies because of its accuracy. I really like the Kinsa — a smart thermometer that can be used orally, rectally, or under the arm. It plugs into an iPhone and provides temperature readings within 10 seconds. It also has a symptom tracker and medication administration log. It even has the capability of photo-documenting rashes.

There’s no established rule for when to take your baby to the doctor. However, if your baby has difficulty or fast breathing, a difficult-to-reduce or prolonged fever, is not feeding well, is not as active as usual, or has nasal secretions that are too difficult to clear, you probably want to bring your child in sooner, rather than later. Prolonged viruses (lasting longer than five to seven days) may also need to be seen, especially if symptoms are worsening. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection can occur. It never hurts to call and ask, if you are unsure.

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About Dr. Justin Morgan, Bundoo Pediatrician

Justin Morgan, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician who practices general pediatrics in Louisville, Kentucky. He cares for children of all ages.


  1. Yeah… Using a smart thermometer is preferable because it gives an accurate result.


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