The nerve-wracking baby cold. No matter how careful you are at keeping your baby away from germs, it’s inevitable that they are going to catch some sort of cold virus.
Babies are born with some of their mother’s immunity (which can be enhanced by breastfeeding), but this wears off over time and they will need to build up their own. Colds are inevitable and are actually good to help do their immune system mature. And good news is, your baby’s first cold shouldn’t last more than a week to ten days.
Despite this, their first cold can be scary for first-time parents, worrying if it’s just a runny nose, a common cold or something more serious.
Is a Cold Dangerous for Babies
The common cold, much like with adults, isn’t at all dangerous for your baby (even though they seem so tiny and vulnerable!). If your baby has a cold, just keep an eye on them and monitor your baby’s symptoms so that it doesn’t reveal something more akin to viral infections or anything needing medical treatment. But little ones are so special, and we tend to fret endlessly about them, so you can always call the doctor if you’re worried.
When do Babies Get Their First Cold?
Most children usually have six to eight colds in their first two years. Winter months can be extra infectious, especially if your little one is around other children and young infants. There’s so many viruses in the cold weather, so don’t be too surprised of your baby catches one. And if they’re often at daycare, your baby’s risk of catching the common cold or other infections is a little higher (no surprise.)
Stages of a Cold in Babies
Generally, the common cold in young children will start as a low grade fever and nasal congestion. A few days later, they might start having post-nasal drip which can cause a cough and a runny nose. From there, the cold should begin to move on out and your child’s symptoms will get a whole heap better.
Symptoms of a Cold in Babies
Some common symptoms of a cold include:
Stuffy or runny nose – this might include trouble breathing.
Mucus may be runny and clear or thick and yellow or green.
There could be coughing, but keep an eye out to make sure sick coughs don’t escalate to a whooping cough. It could also lead to a sore throat adding to the cold symptoms.
Having a fever is classic of the common cold, and could also suggest a viral infection.
Fussiness or being unsettled could be other symptoms. Your baby’s toys might not bring the same excitement as usual and there might be high emotions and low cool off.
Loss of appetite in your baby could start raising alarm bells for the common cold.
Trouble sleeping might be happening, leading to unusually low energy.
Sore ears, or even ear infections, could also be a symptom making your little one feel sick
Offer extra milk feeds if your baby is under six months old, otherwise offer extra water to keep their fluids up to avoid dehydration.
If your baby is refusing milk feeds try to offer smaller feeds, more often.
Try and get them to eat but don’t worry if they do not, as long as they are getting enough fluids
Offer extra comfort and cuddles (lots of TLC).
If they have a fever or are in discomfort you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen, or cold medicines. You can even get saline nose drops designed for a baby’s nose (bye bye stuffy nose!).
Extra sleep can help snooze off those nasty cold viruses so they don’t get a more serious illness.
There are lots of vitamin C options for little bubs, like liquid drops, which can support a happy and healthy immune system that can fight off cold viruses.
Causes of Colds in Babies
The common cold is typically caused by a virus, and there’s actually over 200 viruses that can cause it (yeah, that’s a lot). These will jumpstart the cold symptoms you’ll know doubt become familiar with. Your little one could catch it from direct contact with other children or babies, or touching contaminated surfaces. Babies are also just more susceptible to common colds than older children because they haven’t build up immunity or resistance to viruses yet. Weather conditions, like cold or moist air, can also make your child feel unwell or aggravate your child’s illness, or cough and cold.
How to Prevent Baby Colds
With all of this in mind, there are some easy habits to get into that can help promote healthy children and keep colds far away.
Try to avoid your baby being in contact with anyone that might be sick
Wash your hands before feeding or touching your baby
Clean toys and pacifiers more often (especially if your little one loves a playdate with other children)
Make sure everyone in the house is sneezing and coughing into a tissue
When to Call the Doctor
If the baby is under three months you should check in with your doctor or healthcare provider, especially if they have a fever. Younger children do have a tougher time fighting a cold virus off, whereas older children bounce back a bit quicker.
More serious flu symptoms involve vomiting, diarrhea, chills, sweats or a rash (or headache, sore throat, muscle aches although babies won’t be able to tell you these things). These could also indicate something more serious like pneumonia or croup and you should take them to the doctor. Your sick child may need an extra hand to treat bacterial infections, get some cough medicines or any other medical help to get that runny nose out of their system. Other escalations like an ear infection may need more specific treatment.
Thankfully though most colds, especially the common cold, aren’t normally serious and should pass with little treatment within a few days to a week, even for young children. You’ll probably to get away without medical attention or needing to call the doctor. But you could always reach out to a maternal child health nurse for support too.
Allan, G. M., & Arroll, B. (2014). Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 186(3), 190–199. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.121442
Colds in children. (2005).Paediatrics & child health, 10(8), 493–495. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/10.8.493
Geppe, N. A., Zaplatnikov, A. L., Kondyurina, E. G., Chepurnaya, M. M., & Kolosova, N. G. (2023). The Common Cold and Influenza in Children: To Treat or Not to Treat?. Microorganisms, 11(4), 858. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms11040858