*This is for educational and informational purposes only, this is not to be taken as medical advice. Please always consult your doctor with any questions or before taking or giving your child any medications*
When your baby gets sick it is the WORST! It is so hard because they can’t tell you what is wrong, they are miserable, and everyone is sleep deprived. In addition to sharing the essential sick baby must-haves, I want to give you tips and tricks to best care for your baby.
I have been a pediatric critical care nurse for over ten years, and taking care of babies with cold symptoms is a HUGE part of my job. But let me tell you, it hit differently when it was my baby. I want to share what I know as a nurse and what I have learned as a mom to help you best care for your baby.
This blog post is going to cover the three most important things you need to know to care for your family
- The Most Common Respiratory Illnesses in Kids and Babies
- What You’ll Want to Have Stocked
- How to Know When It’s an Emergency
The First Time MY Baby Got Sick
A little backstory first. When I was a newbie nurse I remember one of the veteran nurses walking past me taking a patient to a room. Following him was a mom carrying her toddler who was making the most awful sound. The nurse asked me “Do you know what this is”? I didn’t. He was making the strangest sound when he breathed in, it was like he ran so hard that he couldn’t catch his breath, and when he coughed it sounded like he was barking. It was croup. And once you hear it, you can recognize it anywhere. Since then I have heard hundreds of kids make that barky seal sound.
All that to say that when my baby woke up in the middle of the night, and I walked into his room I knew immediately what was going on. He had croup, and I was a wreck. I knew what was going on, I knew what to do, but I still had a moment where I was scared. And that cough… It just sounds so painful!
I want to give you the tools to feel like you could handle a situation like this, or heaven forbid, something more serious. Nothing is worse than feeling helpless when your baby is sick.
1. The Most Common Respiratory Illnesses in Babies and Kids
This is no joke why pediatric nurses are in such high demand, especially from October through April every year. It’s what makes ERs bust at the seams. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is typically the culprit of bronchiolitis, but really any respiratory virus can be the cause.
Bronchiolitis is very similar to a regular cold in adults. They have a stuffy nose, chest congestion, and that cough that sounds like they’re trying to clear their throat. What makes it more serious in kids is that their airways are smaller, from their noses all the way down into their lungs and that mucus clogs things up fast.
Croup is another super common illness that affects kids, and it’s worst in kids under two. It is caused by a virus, typically kids will have had other cold symptoms, like a runny nose, for a few days before the cough sets in. Croup is similar to laryngitis in adults, it causes swelling of the vocal cords. Like bronchiolitis, the problem is that kids’ airways are smaller so even a little swelling can make a big impact on their breathing.
The two main symptoms are a “barky” cough and noisy breathing. More often than not, the cough will come on in the middle of the night, and it actually sounds like a bark or like a seal. The other symptom is noisy breathing, which is more noticeable when they inhale, the technical term is stridor.
Reactive Airway Disease/Asthma
Reactive Airway Disease and Asthma are two separate diagnoses. Asthma is the long-term, chronic version that can be triggered by a number of things, while reactive airway disease happens secondary to a cold or another virus.
What happens in both scenarios is that the person’s airways in their lungs both swell up and constrict. So there are two main issues causing the airflow to and from the lungs to decrease, causing the person to have a hard time breathing. They have to use extra muscles to breathe and you can see that they are having to work harder to breathe.
Thankfully this is not very common any more thanks to the Hib Vaccine, which is part of the standard vaccines. They get the first dose at 2 months and complete the course around 12-15 months. Epiglottitis is a very serious disease that causes the epiglottis, which covers the windpipe (trachea) when you eat, to get infected and swollen. It can then block the windpipe, making it extremely difficult to breathe.
The symptoms of epiglottitis are difficulty breathing, noisy breathing, and drooling, they typically look really sick.
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2. What You’ll Want on Hand
So, what items are sick baby MUST HAVES? The three most common illnesses bronchiolitis, croup, and reactive airway disease are typically caused by viruses. This means that the primary focus of caring for your kiddo is to keep them comfortable while their body does what it needs and fights off the virus. The must have items focus on doing just that!
Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen (aka Motrin/Advil or Tylenol).
My personal preference for anyone over six months is ibuprofen. In my opinion it works better and it lasts longer. If your kiddo has a real stubborn fever you might need to use both. Use the dosage guide on the box or you can ask your doctor for more specific dosage based on their weight.
Nose Frida and Saline
These are a must if your baby has bronchiolitis. Keeping your baby’s nose clear is critical. I use the old fashioned one, and I swear by it, it’s one of the items on my newborn essentials list. but they do have a Electric NoseFrida one now too that gets pretty good reviews. The saline helps break up the secretions and makes it easier to clear them.
One of my favorite tricks is to steam up our smaller bathroom and and let Krew breathe in the steam. But to make it even better I like to use a shower steamer. I’ve used a few different kinds but the Breathe Cosset Bath Marbles are my favorite. They are a small business and use clean ingredients. You can use them in a smaller bath too. There’s also the Body Restore brand that is a great option! And of course the OG Vicks.
*Just to be clear- I don’t put my baby IN the shower. We just sit on the floor in the bathroom while it’s steamed up….and typically watch Miss Rachel to pass the time*
Keeping your baby hydrated is key. If they are still breastfed or formula fed exclusively, this is typically enough. But double check with your pediatrician. Just know that it’s going to take longer, or you may have to give them smaller amounts more frequently, especially if they are congested. But older kids can take Pedialyte to help keep them hydrated through their illness, I love the option of the Pedialyte popsicles. You could also make your own with any generic brand of electrolyte replacement drink and popsicle molds, these silicone ones are my new favorite! I think they are way better than the old plastic version.
You don’t want to give babies cough suppressants but Wellements and Hylands both make cold medicine to help manage symptoms. I’ve talked about Wellements before in my post on my newborn essentials. I swear by their Gripe Water. I just love this brand because it’s organic and does not contain any dyes or other nasty stuff. And they make both a day and night cold medicine for babies 4 months and older, they sell it in a combo pack, which is nice because I like to keep both on hand. I’ve also used this pack from Hylands that has a day and night version too, but it’s for babies 6 months and older.
A humidifier is a must! If you have ever used one when you are sick, you know what I mean. I have been using one for the majority of my pregnancy because my congestion is out of control! Humidifiers help to keep the inside of your baby’s nose moist which helps combat congestion, this is especially true during the winter when the air is so dry. Winter also happens to be peak cold and flu season.
My advice when it comes to humidifiers is don’t go buy the biggest one. Get one that is appropriate for your child’s room, otherwise you’ll end up soaking everything around it (I speak from experience). Even on the lowest setting the one we have can make the stuff around it damp. It’s also recommended to use a cold mist humidifier. One like this PureEnrichment humidifier covers 175sqft and would be perfect for a nursery. They do have other size options as well, if your rooms happen to be bigger.
When Is It An Emergency?
How your child looks is the most important thing to assess. As pediatric nurses we do what is called an across the room assessment, which can tell you a lot without having to take any vitals or use a stethoscope. The three main things we look at are:
1. General Appearance-
How do they look overall? As a parent you are the best person to assess this. Are they acting normally? Are they walking (or running) around, playing, and interacting?
Or are they lethargic? Hard to wake up? These would be reasons they need to be seen right away, especially if they have additional symptoms like the ones below.
2. Work of Breathing
Are they breathing faster than normal? Are they having to work extra hard to breathe? This looks like retractions or the skin sucking in between their ribs, under their ribs, at their collarbone or at the bottom of their neck. They might bob their head because of the extra muscles they have to use, or their nostrils might flare out when they inhale. It’s also common for them to be bent over because it is easier for them to breathe in what is called the Tri-pod position. (The same when you bend over with your hands on your knees after running hard).
These are all reasons your child should be seen right away.
We look at a person’s coloring as a sign of their circulation. Are they really pale? Are they mottled, which means they look pale and splotchy. Or the most concerning, do they look blue? You’re most likely to see this around their mouth, or in their hands and feet.
Again, these are all reasons I would take my child to be seen right away.
***As a note, fever can cause symptoms like mottling and breathing fast, and looking overall yucky, so you can start by giving Tylenol or Motrin. But if your child is blue or having difficulty breathing, do not delay being seen. And ALWAYS trust your gut as parent or caregiver! ***
It is just the absolute worst when your baby is sick. But If you keep these essentials stocked you’ll be prepared for cold season to hit, even if it’s in the middle of the night. You won’t have to send someone out to find a 24 hour pharmacy, and the goal is to make both your baby and you feel comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep.
Thank you for being here!!