Colds are common in infants under one year old. A parent may feel helpless when her infant is congested, coughing and stuffy. The dangers of over-the-counter cold medications have been identified recently, creating more confusion about caring for a sick infant. There are many safe alternatives to help alleviate some of the symptoms caused by a cold in infants.
Cool Mist Humidifier
A cool mist humidifier in your infant’s bedroom may help relieve cold symptoms. The cool mist humidifier adds moisture to the air, which may help ease congestion and coughing caused by a cold virus. Moist air will also prevent your infant’s throat and nose from becoming dry and scratchy. Cold viruses prefer dry conditions, so keeping the air moist is important to prevent the virus from thriving. A humidifier can grow mold and bacteria, so clean the unit regularly to prevent them from being spread through the air. The water should be changed daily. Distilled water is often recommended over tap water. Warm mist humidifiers are also available but present a burn risk to infants.
Saline Nose Drops
Saline nose drops are available over the counter. Special brands made for children and infants are also available. These drops may thin and loosen the secretions in the nose so they can be easily suctioned. The saline nose drops may also soothe a sore nose. They are generally considered safe and non-irritating for babies. With his head tilted back, squeeze a few drops in each nostril. Use a bulb syringe to extract the mucus once it has been thinned with the saline nose drops. You may have to suction your infant’s nose frequently through the duration of the cold. Eating while congested can be a challenge for infants. Clear the nasal passages before feeding your infant. Use soap and warm water to clean the bulb syringe frequently.
Steam may help break up a baby’s congestion. Run hot water in the shower to create steam in the bathroom. Sit with your baby in the bathroom with the door closed to retain the steam. Never leave your infant unattended in the bathroom, and do not place her directly in the shower. Sitting in the room with the shower running will offer enough steam to help with the congestion. Suction her nose after sitting in the steam. The steam treatment may be repeated as necessary.
Fluids are important for anyone with a cold, including infants. Fluids help prevent dehydration, which can cause more serious side effects for your baby. Extra fluids also help thin the mucus making it easier to suction with a bulb syringe. For infants younger than 6 months, breast milk or formula is the best option for hydration. Pedialyte is another healthy option for hydration. Too much water at that age can be harmful. Consult your child’s physician before offering anything other than breast milk or formula. Older infants may drink water or juice, but it is always a good idea to verify with your pediatrician before offering something new to your baby.
Elevate the Head
Slightly elevating a baby’s head may relieve some of her symptoms while sleeping. A few towels placed under the crib mattress will create a slight incline in the crib. Never place the towels or use pillows on top of the mattress, as they can be a suffocation hazard for the infant. If your infant moves around the crib while sleeping, this may be ineffective as she may end up with her head lower than her feet. An infant may be more comfortable napping during the day in an infant seat because of the incline.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for any children under the age of six. They concluded that these medications aren’t effective for young children. More importantly, they may cause very serious side effects in young children. Cold medications do not shorten the length of a cold in anyone. They don’t prevent further cold symptoms from arising. Over-the-counter cold medications should be avoided for infants with a cold.