A few days before my sweet boy turned three months old he developed a little virus. It turned out to be just a cold and even though it wasn’t anything too serious, it was still a hard few days! I was overly anxious and called my pediatrician multiple times and there were also two office visits. I may as well walk around with a “First Time Mom” sign over my head. But as a mom, and especially a new mom, it is so hard to see your baby sick and not be entirely sure how to help them. After all, they can’t talk and tell you what’s wrong or what they need so it can feel a little bit like you’re walking around blind trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to help. I hadn’t really thought about how best to prepare for the first time my baby would get sick but now that we’re on the other side of his little bug (whew!) I have a few tips to share to make sure you’re ready when sickness hits your home.
1. Buy a quality thermometer and be comfortable using it.
I can’t stress this enough. When you’re trying to determine if your little one has a fever and how serious it is, you want to know you’re getting an accurate reading. So many of the “scanner” type thermometers give you readings all over the place and some types of thermometers are recommended for older babies rather than newborns so I recommend having a rectal thermometer on hand. Besides being reliably accurate, it’s also likely that your pediatrician will want you to get a rectal temperature if you’re calling about your sick little one.
I recommend the FridaBaby 3-in-1 thermometer. If you have an older child it can be used under the arm or orally but for infants it can be used as a rectal thermometer. (Note: don’t use the same thermometer for an older child’s oral temp if you’re using it as a rectal thermometer for your baby- I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that but you never know!). The thermometer is easy to read and super simple to use. I was a little uneasy taking my baby’s temperature the first time but this thermometer has a stopper that makes sure you’re only inserting it a safe amount and step by step directions if you’re nervous. Also be sure you’re familiar with what constitutes a fever for a baby your child’s age as the threshold is lower for a younger baby.
2. Suction the snot.
If it’s a cold or congestion that has your baby under the weather, a snot sucker is going to be your new best friend. You can do this with the bulb syringe that you most likely received from the hospital or they make other products that will help with this also. You’ve probably heard of the Nose Frida which actually has you sucking the snot out of the baby’s nose. Don’t worry, I promise there is no way the snot would end up in your mouth. Baby’s don’t know how to blow their noses so helping them suction it out is the only way to clear their nasal passages. It’s recommended not to overdo the suctioning- just a couple of times a day as excessive suctioning could irritate their nose but use your best judgment. Heads up that your baby probably won’t be the biggest fan of this process but they’ll feel so much better afterwards when they can actually breathe.
3. Saline is a safe and helpful option for a cold.
Many medications that an adult might take for a cold aren’t approved for young children. I felt so lost with how to help my baby’s cold symptoms when he wasn’t able to take typical cold medicine. But saline drops/spray are perfectly safe for anyone since they’re unmedicated. If you’re struggling to suction your baby’s nose, using some saline drops first can loosen things up to make it easier to suction. And if you’ve ever used a saline nose spray yourself you know how much relief it can provide even on its own. Make sure you buy plain, unmedicated saline spray or drops. The drops will probably be more well received by your baby rather than a spray or mist but you can see which works best for you. Most saline sprays can be a mist if used upright or drops if used at an angle.
4. Be familiar with safe medications and dosages.
If your baby does develop a fever with their illness you may choose to give them fever reducing medication. Be sure you speak with your pediatrician to choose the right medication and get the correct dosing for your baby as many children’s medicines won’t have dosing information for children under two on the package. I recommend having a fever reducing medicine on hand before you ever need it. We found with our little one, his fever often spiked at night even after being fever free during the day. You don’t want to be running out to the pharmacy while trying to manage bedtime with a sick baby. Having it on hand before you need it will save you some sanity when the time comes.
5. Go with the flow.
Your baby isn’t feeling well and so chances are their schedule and routine may be a bit disrupted. They may want to sleep more, or they might not be sleeping much at all. They might be eating way more than usual or you may be trying to feed an uninterested baby. It can be stressful trying to keep them on their same typical schedule when they’re sick so my recommendation is to try and go with the flow for a few days even if it’s out of the norm. For us that meant his wake windows were a bit shorter during the day when he was more tired and he ate much more frequently. I also held him more and we did less tummy time because he needed the comfort and the tummy time stressed him out. Now that he’s feeling better we’re getting back to our regular routine without too much difficulty and I feel good knowing I was able to meet his needs when he was sick.
6. Do NOT rely on Dr. Google.
Google is in fact not a doctor. What it is however, is a very quick way to send yourself into a panic thinking a cold is actually some sort of emergency. This is not to say you shouldn’t take your baby’s illness seriously. You absolutely should. But you should consult an actual professional to determine what is going on. If you don’t already have a pediatrician you feel comfortable with, be sure to find one ASAP. I think it’s really important to have one that will take calls after hours and who has walk-in appointments available daily for out of the blue sickness.
7. Know where emergency care is located.
Things happen unexpectedly and sometimes you will need care before you’re able to get to your pediatrician for an appointment. For example, if your baby spikes an extremely high temperature in the middle of the night. Or if you need to get in to see a doctor and your pediatrician doesn’t have any more appointments for the day and isn’t seeing walk-ins. For these situations, be sure you know where you can take your baby such as a pediatric emergency room, an after hours urgent care etc. It was one of the first things I searched for when our little guy got sick. I knew where the ER was but wanted to know my other options as well and I didn’t want to be doing it on the spot when I needed it.
8. Take care of yourself.
This is important for a few reasons. One is that you and your baby share a lot of germs and you don’t want to end up catching what they have. I imagine caring for a sick (or well) baby while you’re sick is an even bigger challenge! Two, even without you being sick it’s tough work taking care of a sick baby. I found that even though he was sleeping ok at night, I wasn’t because I was worried about him and would wake often to check on him. During the day I wasn’t able to rest as much because he needed me even more than usual. It was important for me to rely on my husband when he was home so that I didn’t get burnt out from the extra exhaustion.
Also, because he was eating more frequently, it was so important for me to stay hydrated and keep up with some healthy, high protein meals. This is tough when all you want to do is make microwave mac n’ cheese and lay on the couch after bedtime but your body will thank you if you keep it well nourished! If you have people in your circle that can come over and help, that’s great too! Even if it’s just so you can get a shower or a quick nap after a long night.
I hope your baby stays well for as long as possible. But unless you’re keeping your baby in a bubble, there is going to be a time when they’ll be sick. Hopefully when that happens, you’ll be prepared for what to expect and how to get through it like the mama warrior you are!