Best ways to treat a cold
Now you’ve got a youngster, you’re probably very familiar with a certain sound: aaaa-tishoo! “Colds are really common viral infections in under-threes,” says paediatrician Dr Katie Rogerson. “At this age, youngsters are still building up their immune system, so they catch more colds than older children.” And if you feel like it takes ages for your little one to fight that cold off, you’re not wrong: “While older people tend to shake off colds in about a week, it takes up to 14 days for little ones to stop sneezing,” adds Katie. The good news is that every cold your child catches kick-starts his immune system and helps to build it up. So, while colds might be annoying right now, they mean that by the time your little one starts school, he’ll be able to fight off lots of the germs that come his way. “And, in the meantime, there are plenty of simple things you can do to keep your youngster comfortable – even when he’s streaming snot!” says Katie.
One of the ways that your youngster’s body fights off the infection is to keep its soft tissues healthy by making them extra moist. This means his body is using lots of liquid, so it really helps if you can keep him wellhydrated when he has a cold. And that can be tricky, because a blocked nose makes drinking milk extremely difficult. “You may find that your baby wants to feed more often, but only has a little bit at every feed,” say Katie. “Babies breathe through their nose so, if he’s trying to feed when he’s bunged up, it can be hard. If you’re breastfeeding, your little one may pull away much
more than normal and then want to re-attach. If you’re bottle-feeding, make sure your baby is in a position in which he can pull away from the bottle whenever he needs to.” All this popping on and off your boob or the bottle can mean he swallows more air that usual, so spend plenty of time winding him afterwards – or during, when he’s having a mid-feed break to get his breath back. Your little one might also find the sensation of swallowing when he’s got a blocked nose an unsettling experience. Try holding your nose and swallowing now: it’s odd! So you’ll need to be patient while he deals with this, too. It will also help your youngster if you feed him in a slightly more upright position, so he doesn’t get any excess snot running into his mouth.
Relax the food rules
“An older child who’s been weaned may go off his food for a couple of days when he has a cold,” says Katie. “But that’s not a problem – as long as he has plenty to drink. Just offer him small amounts of food he might fancy, and don’t get stressed if he doesn’t eat much.”
Tilt his cot
A baby with a cold in the daytime is one thing, but at nighttime it’s a whole different ball game! The problem is that when you lay your baby on his back to sleep, the snot runs down into his mouth or throat rather than his nose.
“Cold viruses are around all year,’ says Katie, ‘but we tend to be most affected during winter. People stay in more, so we’re closer together and it’s easier for germs to circulate.”
And, because he’s used to breathing through his nose, he’ll find not being able to very disconcerting. Tilting his cot or bed slightly at the head end, so his head is higher than his feet, will allow the snot to come out of his nose. You can buy bed blocks, or fold up a towel and put it under two legs to create a slight incline, but do check the cot is stable. If you’re out and about, have the buggy at a slight tilt, rather than laid flat. Disturbed sleep can mean your baby quickly becomes overtired, which makes it more difficult for him to drift off into the Land of Nod. Letting him nap in an upright sling, where the motion of you walking will help him to snooze, can break this viscous circle and make all the difference.
Hibernate for two days
Snottiness can last for days, but it’s usually only in the first two or three days of a cold, when your little one’s body is working hard to fight off the infection, that he’ll feel really grotty. These are the days to stay in, stay warm and stay quiet. “During these two days, the important thing is to keep your child as comfortable as possible and for him to get plenty of rest,” says Katie. “When he’s alert, try some gentle distractions to keep his mind off his cold, such as singing to him, having a cuddle and looking through a picture book together.” And after the first three days, although your baby may still be snotty, he probably feels OK again, so it’s fine to get out and about.
Protect his nose
Now, you might be cursing that snot, but it is doing an important job: keeping germs and debris out of your youngster’s lungs. But your little one will inevitably get a crusty nose, which can become sore. “First thing in the morning, dip a flannel into some warm water and give your baby’s nose a gentle clean to reduce the crustiness and loosen up the mucus,” says Katie. “Then wash the flannel!” Once the skin is dry, dab on a little non-fragranced moisturising cream.
Clean his eyes
Some cold viruses can cause watery eyes, or conjunctivitis. “You’ll need some cool boiled water and a packet of new cotton pads,” says Katie. “Dip a pad in the cooled water, squeeze the excess water out, then wipe it once across the eye, then bin it. If you want to wipe the eye again, use a fresh cotton pad each time.” And see your GP too: while conjunctivitis caused by a virus isn’t normally problematic, other forms can be, so it’s good to have those red eyes checked out to be sure.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines contain ingredients such as nasal decongestant and antihistamines, which can cause adverse effects in children. “If your child is aged under six, don’t use them,” says Katie. Age-appropriate paracetamol or ibuprofen won’t have any impact on the cold virus, but may well help your baby feel more comfortable.
Dr Katie Rogerson is a paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health