My youngest, G, now 18 months, has, it seems, been sick for the last two months. He has waxed and waned in his symptoms, from, "I think he's finally getting better!" to, "He was up all night coughing," to being so congested he couldn't nurse, to just a little stuffy, to a double ear infection.
He had his 18-month "well" baby visit today, and I brought up with the doctor my concerns over his being sick so much this season. I asked if there was anything more I could do to prevent his getting sick so often. "I just feel so bad for him!" I said.
The doctor said something very interesting, and not quite what I expected. I expected him to say, "Wash your hands a lot, don't share food and utensils, make your other kids wash their hands a lot," and yadda yadda, all the usual disease prevention stuff that's nearly impossible in a house full of young boys who like to put their fingers in their mouths and wipe their noses on the backs of their hands. (Seriously - what is it with boys? I can say over and over and over, "USE A TISSUE" and "Don't wipe your nose with your sleeve," and two seconds later, I have yet another snot-covered shirt to wash. Ick.)
But he didn't give me the illness-avoiding lecture.
Quite the opposite.
He said there's really nothing I can do to stop it, and that I shouldn't feel bad. He said if you look at kids by age eight, they've all had the same number of colds. He said it's good that he's building his immune system, that kids who live in a very sterile environment tend to have higher rates of autoimmune disorders.
In other words, if he's just getting colds, let him get the colds now. Get it over with, so that when he gets older, he'll have a nice, robust immune system that can handle everything snot-covered boys' sleeves can throw at him.
I've always believed (and am backed up, I understand it, by immunology studies) that we do need to be exposed to germs, that kids get sick for a reason, and that as long as they're not getting secondary infections or life-threatening complications (G-d forbid!), it's a-okay for kids to get colds, get sick, and pass around all sorts of diseases. (I'm talking about colds and other minor illnesses, not pneumonia or whooping cough or norovirus or measles or anything.) Kids should get dirty, they should put things in their mouths, and they should - did I mention it? - get sick.
On the other hand, it's hard to watch your baby suffer through one cold after another, be up with him night after night as he struggles to nurse through a snot-filled nose, take him to the doctor time after time for an ear infection, wheezing, or follow-up, to force bitter-tasting medicine on him or put a mask over his face every day to give him the steroid that will keep his airways open, especially when he's too young to understand that I'm only trying to help him. It's hard to continue day after day, night after night, on little sleep, hard to keep postponing any hope of a better night's sleep, because the baby, once again, has a cough or a stuffy nose and needs comforting all night long. It's hard to suck snot with the NoseFrida or bulb syringe, hard to keep ahead of the constant drip-drip-dripping of the toddler nose, hard to take having mucus vomited in my lap periodically because he swallows so much of it.
It's hard to have a sick baby.
I do take comfort in the knowledge that he'll grow out of it. My two older boys, while they do get colds, aren't affected nearly so badly when they do. They don't need me to sit with them all night. They don't end up with a wheezy cough after every bout of stuffy nose. They don't get ear infections anymore. They don't need inhalers or nebulizers or control medications. They get a cold, and they get better, and it's not such a torturous few days as it is with the baby. He will grow out of it, and I'll forget this winter of constant illness, constant snot, constant coughs, and constant doctor's visits.
Spring will be here soon, and then summer, and by next winter, this will all be a distant memory.
Until the colds start up again.
Maybe I should go wash my hands.
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