It’s difficult to decide who has it worse when a baby is sick: the baby or her mom. Sure, the baby has a fever and is downright physically miserable, but mom is likely a ball of worry while she tries one thing after another in a desperate attempt to make her baby feel better. There are few emotional pains that measure up to that of a helpless mama.
When kiddos between infancy and about 2 years old are sick there is very little they can do to communicate what’s wrong (aside from cry the saddest cry ever heard). So, it’s up to mom to figure it out. It doesn’t matter if this is her baby’s first illness or twentieth, she will still have a slight panic. Even the most veteran mom, who can spring into action after being able to basically look at her child and diagnose him, has a little bit of doubt when she administers some Tylenol, hoping it will get better.
The big difference between the veteran-mom doubt and the new-mom doubt? It’s simply experience. It’s only after about 15 panicked trips to the pediatrician’s office (only to be told “it’s just a virus and it will run its course”) that a mom may start to feel like she’s getting the hang of things.
Over the course of those 15 unnecessary pediatrician visits, a veteran-mom typically learns a thing or two to help keep her calm and logical when her baby shows the first signs of illness. Here are some of those “stay logical” pearls of wisdom.
14 If They're Under 3-Months-Old, They're In More Danger
Even if it is smack-dab the middle of flu season or if your 2-year-old nephew came to visit yesterday while he was getting over a cold, and managed to sneeze right in your baby’s face, if your baby shows any signs of illness between birth and three months, call the doctor.
According to The Bump, all babies under three months are vulnerable when it comes to illness. This is because they have not had the opportunity to build up their immune systems and have not received all of their vaccinations to protect them.
What may start as a simple cold, courtesy of your sniffling nephew can easily turn into something more serious in a baby whose lungs aren’t fully developed.
Additionally, if your baby was a preemie, use their “adjusted age” even if their birth age is past 3 months. Preemies, in particular, are at risk of the common cold progressing into something much more severe. In fact, Graham’s Foundation states that respiratory infections are the leading cause of hospital readmission for NICU babies. Even if your miracle didn’t have to stay in the NICU, his lungs probably didn’t get to develop as much as they should have, making him more at risk for RSV or Pneumonia.
Never fear, though, because this age is the easiest when it comes to illness because you simply have to leave the guesswork to the pediatrician! No super-mom cape necessary.
13 Keep Your Cool
Anyone with diagnosed Anxiety Disorder will tell you the worst thing someone can say to them is “you just have to learn not to sweat the small stuff.” Similarly, the last thing a mom wants to hear is “stay calm” when her pride and joy is burning up, refusing to eat, or covered in a rash - or maybe all three.
However tough it is, mama, you need to try to remain level-headed. A key thing to remember in these situations is that throughout your life, you’ve likely had some pretty awful fevers.
You’ve maybe even had something like bronchitis or even an infection that required you to stay in the hospital for a few days. No matter how bad it has been, though, you’ve made it through. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of Google, you will end up stressing yourself out because you will inevitably end up on some random page, deep, deep into your Google search, that convinces you your baby’s slightly-congested-sounding cough is an early sign of an infection that will lead to an arm amputation.
Okay, the above google-search scenario is completely made up, but there’s a very good chance that some advice like that is out there. This is why it’s best to assume your baby is the rule, not the exception. If there is nothing else going on with your baby aside from some sniffles or crying for no reason, stay calm and wait it out.
12 Babies Always Have A Fever (Kind Of), But There's Always Tylenol
If your sweet little baby’s sneezes are suddenly accompanied by a warm forehead, it’s time to bust out the thermometer. For babies birth to around 12-months, it’s best to use a rectal thermometer, as that’s typically what pediatrician’s ask for.
When taking your baby’s temperature, remember that what is considered a fever for an adult is not the same as what is considered a fever for a baby.
It’s common for babies to run around 99F when they are completely healthy. According to Parenting.com, a high fever for a baby 0-3 months is 100.4F+, a baby 3-6 months is 101.1F+, and 6 months and up is 103F+.
If your baby’s temperature is below the “high fever” (aka the “call doctor”) mark, then it’s okay to try some home remedies to reduce the temperature.
One suggestion is to put your baby into a lukewarm bath. Just like getting into a hot bath will increase your body temperature, a lukewarm bath can help cool down body temperature. Not to mention, most babies love to splash around in the water, so if the low-fever is making him cranky, the water may help lift his spirits!
If you’re not able to reduce his fever, but his temp is still under the “high fever” threshold, there is the option of infant’s Tylenol or ibuprofen (check with your doctor on age and dosage). This will help relieve any pain your baby may be feeling and may help him get a little bit of sleep to help fight off the fever. However, be sure to let the medication wear off completely before giving more, this will allow you to make sure the fever has not increased or decreased to the point of no longer needing the medicine.
If your baby’s low-grade fever does not go away within two to three days, call your pediatrician’s office.
11 Steam And Suction For Baby's Constant Congestion
If your baby’s sneeze is not accompanied by a fever, that’s great (and reassuring) news! However, that doesn’t mean your baby is perfectly healthy and not hanging on to you for dear life because how dare you put him down when he is not 100% healthy?!
Just like adults, babies can still feel pretty crummy even without a fever. Unlike adults, though, their nasal passages are very tiny and not fully developed, so their risk of congestion (and sinus infections) is much higher.
Congestion is usually pretty easy to identify for even the newest mom. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may even see a snot bubble form every time your kiddo tries to breathe through her nose.
According to Parenting.com, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate your baby’s congestion, none of which require a trip to the doctor’s office. First, make sure you’re keeping airways as clear as possible by using the bulb-syringe (or Nosefrida, if your kiddo will let you) to suction out the gunk. If you’re having trouble getting anything out, use some baby nose saline spray, it will help break up the mucus for easier suction.
If no amount of suction seems to be helping, start running the shower at the highest temp it will go and shut the bathroom door. Once the shower has been running for a while and the bathroom has filled with steam, bring the baby in for a while and let the steam help clear some of the congestion. Then, when it’s time for bed, make sure you keep baby slightly elevated (ask your doctor for tips on this if your baby can’t roll over on her own yet) and that a humidifier is running through the night. This will help promote drainage through the sinuses and avoid possible ear infections. Bonus: some good sleep for baby means good sleep for mama!
10 Look For The Signs That It's Serious
Congestion is a tell-tale sign of a virus, but it’s not something that should always just be brushed off, particularly when it starts affecting the lungs. A very common and contagious virus is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) which typically affects babies from birth to age 2. This virus has a significant impact on baby’s lungs, but it is different from something like pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Sometimes, according to HealthyChildren.org, RSV shows no symptoms other than that of the common cold. Oftentimes, however, it is identified by a wheezing sound when baby is breathing in and out.
More often than not, this nasty virus will run its course just like any other, and after some rest, hydration and TLC your kiddo will be good as new.
However, if at any point you hear a loud wheezing sound (the louder it is, the more serious it may be) or notice your child straining when he’s trying to breathe (straining will look like the chest sinking into the ribs), it’s time to call the on-call doctor while you’re en route to the office.
If it’s after hours, consider visiting an urgent care to make sure your baby is getting enough oxygen.
Though very unlikely, if your baby is wheezing, showing signs of labored breathing, and his lips are starting to turn blue the situation is considered an emergency so call 911 while you are en route to a hospital.
9 Coughs Aren't Serious Unless They Go On Too Long
Doesn’t it seem like any time you’re on a plane, a bus, or in some area that is crowded, that there is always someone right near you who is coughing? Not just any cough, either, but one of those coughs where you’re not entirely certain that person doesn’t need urgent medical attention. Somehow, though, that person finishes the coughing spell, takes a sip of water, and acts like it was no big deal.
Next time you hear your baby coughing, do your best to remember that metaphorical “coughing person.”
A cough can sound really scary, especially late at night. However, most coughs are simply the body’s way of clearing out mucus. If your baby has been congested from a cold, it is likely he will develop a bit of a cough as well, especially at night when the congestion and drainage have nowhere to go.
So, a rule of thumb is to wait a cough out unless it has been hanging on (and not getting better or is getting worse) for three or more days.
According to The Bump, times you should not wait out the cough include when it is accompanied by a fever, there are signs your baby is having trouble breathing, or your baby’s lips are turning blue from lack of oxygen (this is an emergency situation).
8 Mom Check Ears Herself Before Going To The Doctor
If your baby seems to be generally unwell, but you can’t quite pinpoint exactly what’s going on, consider her little ears. According to Today’s Parent, around 80% of kiddos will have at least one ear infection before the age of 4. These middle-ear infections are very common in little kids because they have not fully developed the drainage tubes in their ears. Ear infections frequently occur at the end of a cold, particularly when the cold caused significant congestion. They can also happen as a result of drainage from allergies.
The tough thing about an ear infection is that there’s no tell-tale sign. Some babies show no signs except some mild fussiness. Other, more obvious, symptoms can include a low fever, persistent crying through the night, irritability, clinginess, loss of appetite, and sometimes even vomiting.
If you are suspicious of an ear infection, try (gently!) rubbing the area around your baby’s ears; if she looks at you like you’re a crazy person she’s likely not in pain but if she pulls away or cries, it’s a good sign she's in some pain.
If you have a hunch your baby has an ear infection, there is no need to play the “wait and see” game. Set up a same-day appointment with the pediatrician to have her ears checked. Medical professionals are the only ones who can diagnose ear infections and the only ones who can prescribe the antibiotics that are needed to treat them. If you find that you are treating ear infections seemingly every other month, consider visiting an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist to discuss the option of tubes which will help drain fluid from your baby’s ears to avoid the painful infections (and avoid more sleepless nights for everyone).
7 Even If They're Not Eating, They Need Water
When a kiddo is sick and miserable, her mom will do anything in her power to try to make her feel better fast….the faster, the better. So, when a fevered little one goes from sick to sick and no longer eating, it can be worrisome (since food equals energy and nutrients).
However, this is the kind of situation where you should take a step back and remember that when you feel crummy, sometimes you don’t want to eat, either.
Unless your baby is severely underweight or has another condition related to eating, there is no need to panic if your baby’s appetite has decreased a bit.
What you do need to look out for, though, is hydration. According to What To Expect, it is more important to stress fluids over solids during an illness to avoid dehydration. A common cold will pass on its own, but the body needs to be hydrated in order to function.
If your baby hasn’t started solids yet and is over three months, it’s okay to let him lead the way when it comes to breastmilk/formula. If he is eating solids, just make sure he’s drinking lots of water and if you’re able to sneak in something like Pedialyte or popsicles, that’s an added bonus.
Of course, if your baby’s appetite has not come back in a couple of days, it’s best to call the doctor.
6 Stock Up On Ginger Ale And Saltine Crackers
During your first year as a mom, you get used to dealing with a lot of disgusting things. Spit up in your hair is nothing compared to that first stomach bug, though. There is truly no better measure of a mother’s love than her ability to suck it up and change diapers during a bout of diarrhea and/or clean up vomit several times a day.
Those nasty stomach bugs come with a vengeance, and typically affect everyone in the house once they are done wreaking havoc on your poor baby (just pray the bug hits you and your partner at separate times). Be sure to have a constant stock of saltines and ginger ale in your home for when these bugs hit - or at least have easy access to Amazon Prime Now.
Thankfully, stomach bugs tend to move pretty quick, and are out of your baby’s systems within a day or two.
However, even if the illness is brief, it is important to treat it seriously. Stomach bugs have a high risk of dehydration, especially if your baby can’t keep anything down. Now is another time not to worry about food but to focus on keeping your baby hydrated.
If you can, try to make sure he’s taking just a few small sips at a time throughout the day. As you can imagine, if your baby chugs a big cup of milk or water, that won’t sit well in an upset stomach.
If your baby’s lips start to look chapped, he doesn’t seem to be producing much saliva, or cries without tears it’s a sign of dehydration and you should call your doctor immediately.
5 Stay Away From Your Baby’s Red Eye(s)
Do you remember when you were a kid, and you’d wake up to your eye crusted shut? Then, once you finally were able to open it, it was bloodshot, swollen, and disgustingly goopy? If you managed to get through childhood without a bout of Pink Eye, you were lucky but, don’t expect your kid to be so lucky.
According to The Bump, there are several types of Pink Eye (or conjunctivitis) including bacterial, viral, allergic, and irritant. They are all similar in nature and show the same signs, but only bacterial pink eye can be treated with antibiotics.
Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell the difference between viral and bacterial pink eye (allergic and irritant can usually be pinpointed), so if you suspect your baby has it just pack up and head to the pediatrician’s office.
Oftentimes, your doctor will prescribe some antibiotic eye drops to cover all the bases. At this point, the treatment of pink eye may be more painful than the pink eye itself.
Holding down a crying baby or toddler to put drops in her eyes is not for the weak (pro-tip: if your kid is a good sleeper, try to do it when she is asleep, she will wake up but fall right back asleep after).
Keep in mind, this is very contagious so keep your baby home from daycare and wash your hands like it’s your job.
Never Wake A Sleeping Baby
One day your baby is his crazy self, running or crawling around, laughing, and fighting bedtime like it’s his job - and the next he’s asleep more of the day than awake. If he doesn’t have a fever, and if he’s not a newborn that’s not exactly normal, so it can raise some red flags.
General lethargy in a kid can seem concerning, but it doesn’t need to be. If your baby is trying to fight off a virus, he will need rest for his body to be strong enough to do it. Even if he shows no other obvious signs of illness, his sleeping may very well be from a virus.
So, if this is a one-off day, let your kiddo sleep. No one likes to be woken up when they just want to sleep (though, a part of you may want to give him a taste of his own medicine since he’s been waking you up when you sleep since he came along - now is not the time to be petty - save that for his teen-years).
Of course, if the sleepiness is not getting better after a couple of days, and there is still no sign of illness or other explanation for the lethargy, it’s time to call the doctor. It’s likely your baby is trying to fight something off, but at that point, you will want your pediatrician to help you figure out what exactly it is.
4 If It’s Red and Raised, Get It Checked Out
There’s really nothing quite like finding a surprise rash on your kid’s skin. Rashes are tough because there are so many kinds and they can range from no big deal to severe. Combine one of the most elusive skin reactions with a non-communicative baby and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a stressed out mom.
This is the kind of situation to, once again, stay cool. According to Parents, the majority of rashes are nothing to be concerned about, and many of them go away on their own. A diaper rash, for instance, is a rash parents will deal with a few times during their child’s early years - and rarely does a diaper rash need to be checked out by a doctor.
Before calling the doctor, eliminate some possible causes. Has there been any change in laundry detergent, lotions, soaps, or anything else that touches your baby’s skin?
Remember, baby’s skin is very sensitive to fragrance and chemicals, so if you recently purchased the bargain detergent because they were out of your normal formula, give your baby a bath and put her in clothes that weren’t washed in the detergent. You will probably see the rash clear itself up.
If the rash is accompanied by a fever, it is likely a result of a virus, but it’s best to get it checked out just in case. Infections can also cause skin rashes, so make sure to check if there are any scratches or other wounds near the rash that may indicate an infection (and a doctor’s visit).
3 Allergic Reactions Allow For Mama Reaction
Unlike a typical rash, hives are the skin's reaction to an allergy of some sort. This can be your baby’s body’s way of telling you something is wrong whether it was in food, medicine, pollen, or topical. Hives differ from rashes in that they appear as spots, and are sometimes hard to the touch (like a welt). They also tend to be very itchy for your baby, so you may notice fussiness.
According to Parents, hives vary in size - they can be as small as a pinpoint or as large as the palm of a hand or even a dinner plate. When they are very large, it’s usually because smaller hives have swollen together to form one large welt.
Again, this is the body’s way of reacting to an allergy, so hives need to be taken seriously. Allergic reactions tend to start small but can progress to be more severe as exposure continues. Even if you know exactly what is different to have caused the hives (medication, new food, etc) it’s best to have the doctor check your baby out.
If the hives are accompanied by a cough, difficulty breathing, or blue lips- it is an emergency and may be anaphylactic shock. You should call 911 and head to the emergency room if you suspect this is happening.
2 When All Else Fails, Call Mom
When the fever won’t break, the doctor says everything’s fine, you’ve tried the lukewarm bath, your baby is well hydrated, and your baby is still miserable - it may be time to call your own mom to see if she can share some of her wisdom.
When you were pregnant, you likely heard from your mom and mother-in-law about how when they were pregnant they didn’t have all this technology and kids didn’t sit in car seats until their 16th birthday. You probably rolled your eyes, because, frankly, anyone who survived that generation is obviously lucky. However, there’s something to be said about the fact your mom was able to raise you into the healthy adult you are even without fancy gadgets and advanced medicine.
Your mom not only has your baby’s best interest at heart, but you are her baby, so she doesn’t want to see you suffer any more than you want to see your baby suffering. If she can’t offer a remedy that you haven’t tried (or found on google), she can offer you that same gentle heart you’re offering your baby. No one said there’s no crying in motherhood, and you’re never too old to need your own mom. If you’re really lucky, she may even live close enough to come over to give you a break and soothe your baby for a bit.
1 Trust Your Mom-Gut
Sick babies are tough. There is no getting around it. It’s even tougher when your baby just isn’t getting better and you’ve visited the pediatrician’s office three times in the past week only to continue to be told: “it’s viral, it will run its course”. You may start to wonder if your doctor got his medical degree from a strange online university, because how in the world can a virus make your baby so sick for so long?
While you certainly can research your pediatrician’s medical credentials and verify his education, it is just as easy to visit a different doctor for a second opinion.
The fact of the matter is that you know your baby best. You know the subtle difference in his cries, your doctor hears only a cry that is blended together with the 14 other baby cries he’s heard throughout his day.
Mom intuition is real. Just because you don’t have “M.D.” after your name, doesn’t mean you are clueless to what is going on with your baby. If you believe there is more going on than your doctor is telling you - it’s okay to be your child’s advocate. You have the right to ask for tests to be run, to ask them to slow down and review the medications your baby’s on, or even to just simply look again.
Trust your gut, mama, because even the best doctor in the world is still human and humans make mistakes sometimes.