Caring for Sick Infants

sick infant

Your baby may fall sick from about 6 to 12 infections in the first year. That’s because babies don’t have a developed immune system that can fight off most infections.

Read on to learn about the most common childhood ailments and how to care for your sick child at home.

How to Care for a Baby With a Fever

For babies less than 3 months old, a high fever may cause life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and bacterial meningitis.

Technically, fever is not an illness on its own. It’s a symptom of your baby’s immune system fighting off an underlying problem. Most times, fever is caused by infections from bacteria or viruses. It may come from flu, ear infection, or a vaccine reaction.

Any temperature reading beyond 100.4º Fahrenheit points to a fever. Apart from high body temperature, other telltale signs of fever in infants include:

  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite

How to Treat a Fever

Low-grade fevers (101º F and below) are not dangerous in infants above 3 months old. You can take the following measures to keep it down:

  • You may administer infant Tylenol to ease the discomfort of a low-grade fever. Confirm with your doctor about the right dosage. Remember, this medication will only ease the fever but won’t treat the underlying condition.
  • Don’t overdress your feverish child or drape them in thick blankets. This may trap body heat and crank up their body temperature.
  • Bathe them in lukewarm water.
  • Encourage feedings as usual and proper hydration.
  • Allow your child ample rest.

When to Seek Care from an Urgent Care for a Fever

Here are some of the telltale signs that you should seek urgent care for your feverish child:

  • If your baby’s body temperature reads 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and above
  • A body temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in kids less than 1 year of age
  • When your child’s temperature readings are 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • If the fever persists for over 3 days
  • When you notice drastic behavioral changes in your kid. For example, they appear to be too sleepy and weary.

How to Care for a Baby With a Common Cold

Your baby may get up to 12 colds in their first year of life, especially during the fall and winter months. Though colds are usually not dangerous, parents may worry about cold symptoms mutating into something more severe.

A baby cold has a 9-day infection cycle with 3 unique phases:

The First 3 Days

The baby’s cold builds up slowly within the first 3 days. Your baby may seem fussier and lacks interest in eating. Their body temperature also cranks up, and a runny nose often appears at this stage.

Middle Phase

Between days 3 and 5, the fever may come down, and your child may be less finicky and regain their appetite.

The mucus thickens a bit and appears to be a light yellow color. This is also the stage where the child develops a cough that may make it difficult for them to sleep.

The Final 3 Days

At this stage, the mucus thickens further and turns crusty. Uncomfortable symptoms subside, and toddlers resume their normal activity and regain their appetites.

How to Treat Cold Symptoms

Here are some of the steps that you can take to treat cold symptoms at home:

  • Avoid giving your child antibiotics to treat cold symptoms like fever, cough, or a runny nose. That’s because antiviral drugs don’t work well against viruses. But if your pediatrician approves, you may administer baby Tylenol to reduce fever.
  • Dry indoor air intensifies nasal congestion. Running a humidifier can bring moist air into your baby’s room and prevent breathing problems caused by dry air during sleep.
  • Exclusive infant breastfeeding for the first 6 months may reduce the risk of baby colds or flu.
  • For kids above 1 year, consider giving them Pedialyte. This is an electrolyte drink that can relieve cold symptoms in babies.

When to Go to the Urgent Care for Cold Symptoms

You should contact your pediatrician in the following scenarios:

  • Your newborn is less than 3 months old and has a blocked nose or snuffles.
  • Your baby has a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
  • A worsening cough, headache, or fever that persists for several days.
  • Your baby has potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

How to Care for a Baby With a Flu

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious respiratory infection. Infants younger than 12 weeks stand a greater risk of contracting influenza. That’s because they still have a weak immune system and still don’t qualify for a flu vaccine.

In toddlers, influenza appears like a bad cold. It cranks up the body temperature to (100º F or greater). The high fever may last between 3 to 7 days.

Other flu symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, cough, lethargy, and sore throat. The baby may also experience bouts of diarrhea or nausea.

Kids with the flu are also irritable because they feel terrible. So they may stop eating and engaging in playtime and tend to cry a lot.

How to Treat the Flu

One of the best ways to treat the flu in infants is to keep your baby well-hydrated. Continue to try to feed your baby formula or breast milk even if they don’t appear hungry. Doing so ensures your child doesn’t suffer from dehydration.

It’s also best to keep an eye on breathing difficulties or intense coughing.

When to go to Urgent Care for the Flu

Seek urgent medical care for the flu in the following scenarios:

  • If your baby runs a fever during the flu season, call a healthcare provider immediately
  • If your newborn falls sick
  • If they’re having chest pains
  • If they’re breathing fast
  • If they’re extremely irritable
  • If the symptoms persist for more than five days

How to Care for a Baby With the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a potentially dangerous respiratory infection. Unlike colds and flu, it is not on the radar of most people. But if you have a baby, you may need to keep an eye on RSV during the fall and winter months.

RSV spreads via virus droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The virus can survive on hands, clothing, and surfaces like doorknobs and counters-you can contract it if you touch a contaminated area.

All kids who are 2 years old and above have contracted RSV at least once. Young babies are particularly vulnerable because they have fragile lungs and a still-developing immune system.

RSV results in a common cold. It may also affect the lungs and respiratory tracts, bringing about respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which lead to breathing difficulties in toddlers.

Other RSV symptoms may include a runny or stuffy nose, cough, fever, headache, loss of appetite, and dehydration.

How to Treat RSV

Here is how you can treat RSV at home:

  • Avoid using steam and hot-water humidifiers in your baby’s room. These devices could scald the skin and pose a significant danger. Instead, run a cool mist humidifier to avoid dry indoor air.
  • Keep your baby well hydrated with extra fluids.
  • Clean out your baby’s nose using saline nasal drops.
  • RSV doesn’t respond to antibiotics since it is a virus. But you can ease RSV-related fever using infant Tylenol (acetaminophen). Of course, make sure to get the doctor’s approval first.

When to Go to Urgent Care for RSV

Call your doctor about RSV if your child:

  • Is a newborn and falls sick
  • Develops a high fever
  • Has their skin, lips, fingertips, or tongue appearing blue, purple, or gray
  • Is lethargic or drowsy
  • Has symptoms of dehydration such as infrequent urination and no tears
  • Has labored or fast breathing
  • Acts fussy or refuses to eat or drink
  • Has persistent coughing

How to Care for a Baby With An Ear Infection

Just like the common cold, ear infections affect most children. But parents often don’t know how to diagnose an ear infection mainly because the symptoms may appear obscure and look like those of a common cold or flu.

Contrary to popular belief, ear tugging is not a surefire sign of an ear infection. As a parent, what should you check out for?

 The following are potential signs of an ear infection in infants:

  • Your baby has a fever of 102º Fahrenheit or greater.
  • Difficulty sleeping because of the pain in the ears.
  • Trouble hearing sounds around them. That could be a result of fluid buildup in the ear.
  • Touching or pulling on their ear
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Cough
  • Runny nose

Ear pain is also a symptom of an ear infection. Your baby may cry a lot when lying down and exerting pressure on the affected ear.

How to Treat an Ear Infection

Some ear infections resolve on their own. However, in some cases, your child may need medications to help them through the infection. The pediatrician may prescribe infant Tylenol (acetaminophen) to ease your baby’s discomfort.

When to Go to Urgent Care for an Ear Infection

Seek urgent care for an ear infection if:

  • Cold symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, don’t clear out in a few days
  • Your newborn is younger than 4 months old and develops a fever
  • The fever persists for more than a few days
  • Your baby has a repeat ear infection
  • Contact your pediatrician whenever you suspect your baby has an ear infection. The doctor will look in your baby’s ear to give the correct diagnosis.

How to Care for a Baby With Diarrhea

Within the first few months, baby stools are typically soft and loose. But things look different when your baby has diarrhea.

Their poop appears watery and is excreted in high volumes. The bowel movements are also more frequent than normal, and the poop color may range from green to yellow to dark brown.

Toddlers with diarrhea may also appear fussy and troubled and may run a fever and lose their appetite.

The common causes of diarrhea in babies include the following:

  • Viruses like Rotavirus, norovirus, or adenovirus
  • Antibiotics
  • Food allergy
  • Food intolerance
  • Parasites
  • Food intolerance

How to Treat Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a mechanism for the body to expel germs. So let your baby’s diarrhea resolve without medicine. It may last 5 to 10 days.

During these days, you need to replenish your baby’s lost fluids since dehydration is a potential problem. So give them breast or bottle milk more often. If your baby is older than 1 and is vomiting, you can also give them a pediatric oral rehydration drink. Start with a tablespoon of the drink 30 minutes after they throw up and slowly increase the dose over time.

When to go for Urgent Care for Diarrhea

Call a pediatrician if your infant has the following:

  • A high fever
  • Dehydration symptoms (lethargy, dry skin, few wet diapers)
  • Blood in the poop
  • Mucus or offensive smell in baby stool
  • Complete loss of appetite

How to Care for a Baby with Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)

Conjunctivitis causes swelling of the conjunctiva, the transparent outer layer of the white segment of the eye, and the interior linings of the eyelids.

This condition causes your child’s eyes to appear reddish, watery, and tired-looking. The eyelids look puffy with plenty of discharge. It may affect both eyes simultaneously or just one eye.

Bacterial and viral infections are the major cause of conjunctivitis. The common symptoms include the following:

  • Green or yellow discharge from the eye indicates a bacterial infection.
  • A baby with a bacterial infection may also suffer from an ear infection.
  • With viral infections, there’s no tearing or discharge.
  • A child with a viral infection may also experience cold symptoms. These include whooping cough, fever, and headache.

How to Treat Pinkeye

Here is how you can treat pink eye at home:

  • If your baby’s pinkeye is viral, leave it to resolve on its own within a week.
  • Gently clean your baby’s eyes with a warm, wet cloth.
  • Prescribed antibiotic eye ointment or drops can treat bacterial infections.
  • Don’t cover the infected eye with a bandage.
  • Whether viral or bacterial infection, a warm compress may bring relief.

When to go for Urgent Care for Pink Eye

Seek urgent care for pink eye if:

  • You suspect a more serious eye infection.
  • Your baby has unclear vision or increased sensitivity to light.
  • There is persistent swelling or redness of the eyes.
  • Your baby has a high fever accompanied by the above-mentioned eye symptoms.

The Bottom Line

A baby’s cough, rash, fever, or fussiness may mean a lot of things. And what’s worse is you cannot ask your little one what’s wrong.

Babies’ immune systems have not yet developed fully, which means they are vulnerable to most infections. But you don’t have to get panicky every time your child feels under the weather. Use this guide to learn how to administer home care to your baby when they feel sick.

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