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Cold and flu season is officially upon us. Unless you never leave your house all winter, chances are your little one will catch at least one cold.
When our little ones fall sick, it’s normal to start worrying about what to do next. Even I find myself frantic sometimes despite being a Nurse Practitioner!
Nobody likes to see their baby suffering.
The biggest decision we always have to make when our little one is sick is deciding whether or not they need to be seen by a pediatrician or healthcare provider.
To help you out with this big decision, I’ll share some tips from a Nurse Practitioner’s perspective on when you should take your baby to a doctor for a cold or fever.
What are Cold Symptoms in a Baby?
- Nasal Congestion
One of the first signs that your baby is coming down with a cold is usually congestion or a runny nose. At first, your little one may seem ok with just a little congestion.
Usually, this congestion starts out clear or watery, but over the next few days becomes thicker and green or yellow.
The color of mucus does NOT indicate a bacterial infection vs a cold. This is something I hear patients say all the time and is a common misconception.
Color doesn’t mean serious infection. It’s actually expected for the color of mucus to change over the course of a cold.
After a day or two, you might notice that your baby spikes a fever and may seem lethargic or tired. You might notice a decrease in their appetite as well.
Also, you can expect a cough, fussiness, and trouble sleeping.
All of these are typical symptoms of a common cold in a baby or young child.
How Long Does a Cold Last in Babies?
Most of the time, uncomplicated colds improve within 7-10 days. You should notice after the first 5 days your little one starts to feel a little better.
At the onset of cold symptoms, try to apply these natural cold remedies for babies. After that, their symptoms should gradually improve each day.
If your baby doesn’t seem to be getting any better, it’s time to see a doctor or healthcare provider.
When To Take Your Baby to the Doctor for a Cold
Although colds vary in severity, there are certain symptoms that require closer evaluation. If you’re ever in doubt, definitely call your healthcare provider as well and get their opinion.
Don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician when to take your baby to the doctor for a cold.
Babies Younger than 3 Months Old
Younger babies require a lot more care since they are more vulnerable to colds and illnesses.
Colds can cause serious problems for babies younger than 3 months old, so it’s important to take any sickness seriously.
If your newborn has a fever over 100.4F call your healthcare provider right away.
Also, if they’re not nursing or eating or producing fewer than 1 wet diaper every 4 hours, call your healthcare provider.
Babies Older than 3 Months Old
For babies older than 3 months old, a lot of symptoms can be safely managed from home. Check out some key symptoms to watch closely.
When your baby becomes ill or seems uncomfortable, it’s really important to check their temperature. A word of advice, not all thermometers are created equally, so I do advise investing in a higher quality thermometer.
Rectal temperatures are the most accurate, but once your baby is older than 6 months and able to roll away, this might not be the easiest route. I’ve been impressed with this thermometer which is very accurate and easy to use.
Check your baby’s temperature whenever they fall ill. You should take your baby to their pediatrician if they have a temperature over 102F or a low-grade fever (100-102) that lasts several days (more than 3 days).
Fewer Wet Diapers:
If your little one has less than 1 wet diaper every 6 hours or fewer than their normal, this is concerning. This is an early sign of dehydration or not eating enough.
Try to pay attention to noises your baby makes while breathing. If they’re making strange noises while taking a breath in or breathing very loudly while sleeping, they should be seen.
Persistent or Severe Cough:
If your baby seems to be coughing non-stop, it’s important to have a healthcare provider listen to their lungs and evaluate their cough. Also, if they’re coughing so hard that they’re vomiting, they need to be seen.
Coughs can be part of a common cold, but they also are seen in pneumonia, croup, or pertussis/ whooping cough.
Thick Green Nasal Discharge:
I know I said before the color of mucus doesn’t mean it’s an infection. However, if the mucus stays very thick and green without improvement, then it is concerning.
Keep an eye on the type of discharge your baby has. If it is thick and green for several days (more than 5 days) and your baby doesn’t seem to be getting any better, that’s a good time to have them evaluated.
Redness in Eyes or Thick Discharge from Eyes:
Pink eye is very common in children because it’s so contagious. If you notice that your little one has a lot of thick discharge coming from their eyes, take them to your pediatrician right away.
Although some cases of pink eye or conjunctivitis are viral, bacterial conjunctivitis does require prescription medication to clear it up.
Ear pain is another important symptom to monitor for. Ear infections are very common in babies and they’re not something you can visualize at home.
If you notice your baby is constantly pulling on or rubbing their ears, there’s a good chance they’re having pain. Bring them into their pediatrician for an evaluation to make sure they don’t have an infection.
Rashes can represent so many different illnesses in children. Although a lot of childhood rashes are caused by viruses, it’s important to see your healthcare provider if your baby breaks out in a rash.
Based on the type and location of the rash, your healthcare provider will be able to instruct you on how contagious it is, how long they should stay away from other children, and how to manage it.
Any Other Signs That Worry You or an Alarming Cry:
As moms, we have a natural instinct to know when our little ones aren’t feeling well. Trust your instincts and always call for an appointment if you feel like something isn’t right.
Especially during the first few months, it’s always ok to see your healthcare provider if you’re unsure what to do with your baby.
Seek Your Healthcare Provider Immediately
Although many childhood illnesses are shortlived and uncomplicated, there are certain symptoms that need urgent management. If your little one has any of the following symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
- Gasping for Air or Difficulty Breathing
- Coughing up Blood-Tinged Mucus or Sputum
- Refusing to Nurse or Drink
- Crying Uncontrollably or Won’t Calm Down
- Extremely Lethargic and Won’t Stay Awake
As much as we try to shelter our little ones and keep them safe, colds are an inevitable part of childhood.
Try to keep a close eye on your baby and make sure to have them seen if any of the above symptoms occur.
Also, if you’re ever unsure of what to do or how to help your baby, it’s always okay to see your healthcare provider. We’re always happy to help and provide guidance whenever you need it.
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