If only babies came with instruction books, new parents wouldn’t have to stress each and every time their infants coughed, sneezed or fussed. But as any new parent knows, diagnosing your baby’s ailment is no easy feat. That’s why we went to the experts. Read on as pediatricians weigh in on the five most common baby illnesses, and offer tips and tricks for treating and preventing them.
5 Most common baby illnesses
1. Colds and other upper-respiratory infections – these can lead to ear infections
2. Diaper rash – typically caused by the many diaper changes associated with the newborn period
3. Vomiting/diarrhea – usually caused by a virus
4. Fevers – a rectal temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever for a baby
5. Colic – this uncontrollable crying can be caused by painful gas or other tummy troubles
How to prevent and treat common baby illnesses
Wash your hands
According to Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP, Southern Californina-based pediatrician and pediatric advisor for The Newborn Channel, the best way to keep your little one healthy and to prevent illness in your home is to wash your hands.
Lauren Crosby, MD, FAAP, of La Peer Pediatrics in Beverly Hills, California, agrees. She advises parents and siblings of newborns to wash hands to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or to sing the “ABCs” to ensure a thorough cleaning. Once siblings come home from school, Crosby recommends they wash their hands and change into fresh play clothes.
Though it’s OK to take a walk around the neighborhood for some fresh air, it’s best to avoid large crowds with your newborn. “I recommend that until an infant has its first set of vaccines, parents should avoid crowds, malls, markets, parties, other children and travel,” Crosby said.
Another way to help prevent common baby illnesses is to make sure everyone in your home gets a flu vaccine. According to Altmann, flu vaccines are recommended for everyone six months of age and older. “If you have a newborn, the best way to protect her from the flu is to vaccinate everyone else around her.”
Erin Taback, MD, founder of Oak Park Pediatrics in Oak Park, Illinois, encourages parents and caregivers of young infants to also get the Tdap (or pertussis) vaccine to help prevent common baby illnesses.
Clean out that nose!
Over-the-counter cold and cough medications aren’t recommended for babies. So, what can you do for a newborn dealing with a cold? Altmann recommends cleaning out his stuffy nose so he can breathe and drink more easily. “Place a drop or two of nasal saline in each nostril to loosen the mucus and help it drain,” she said. “If the snot is interfering with sleep or feeding, try gently suctioning.” In addition, Altmann advises parents install a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in baby’s room at night to help them breathe more easily.
Dealing with an ear infection
Unfortunately, ear infections often follow a cold. According to Altmann, these factors can increase your child’s risk for ear infections: Sleeping with a bottle, attending childcare and exposure to second-hand smoke.
As with preventing a cold or flu, Altmann says parents can help prevent ear infections with hand washing and family vaccinations. Another solution? Breastfeed. “Breast-fed babies get less ear infections,” Altmann said.
“Rotavirus is the most common infectious cause of diarrhea in children, although several other viruses are also to blame,” Altmann said. Your baby can receive an oral vaccine for Rotavirus at two months of age.
If your baby gets diarrhea more than eight times a day, vomits two feeds in a row, isn’t feeding well, looks sickly, has a fever or shows signs of dehydration (such as fewer wet diapers) Altmann recommends calling your pediatrician.
If in doubt…
When treating common baby illnesses, always trust your maternal instincts. You know your baby’s behavior better than anyone.
If in doubt, follow these basic guidelines. Altmann suggests calling your pediatrician when any of these issues arise:
- If a cold lasts for more than three or four days
- If your baby has a temperature of 100.4 or higher
- If your baby isn’t feeding well
- If your baby is vomiting
- If your baby has trouble breathing
- If your baby looks sick