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Cold & Flu Season with Littles

The sniffles are coming! The sniffles are coming!

Around November every year, our family always experiences an uptick in sick days and sleepless nights. Generally, cold and flu season starts in late fall and can carry on well past the New Year.

Older siblings can often pick up nasty bugs at school and bring them home to our little ones and any parent knows: a sick baby/toddler means an unhappy household. 

Little ones just starting at daycare, preschool or Kindergarten are sure to run into smack into germs they’ve never been exposed to before and here comes the snot! Babies and toddlers are wired to touch everything and put everything in their mouths, making it especially hard to keep them healthy through the winter. There’s no point in trying to “teach” a kid this young not to do those things, so part of it is just accepting it. Lots of parents will tell you that it’s “building their immune system” and good for them - I can’t say whether or not that’s true, but as my daughter has a tendency to lick windows (why??), I choose to believe it.

There are some things I wish I’d known as a first-time parent on how to handle a baby or toddler’s first colds and I’ll share them below. Obviously, though, if your child is experiencing more severe symptoms, has been sick for more than 3 days, or something just doesn’t feel right to you, you should get them into a doctor. Fever and other symptoms could indicate an infection or something more dangerous than just a viral bug, so go with your parent gut.

Coping with a Sick Little One

Once you’ve seen a doctor and ruled out anything more serious, you still have to figure out how to take care of your sick kid. Being sick makes all of us miserable but watching your little one be sick and not being able to do very much is true misery. The last thing you want to feel as a parent is helpless, and unfortunately, when it comes to colds and flu, we often are. With really small children, we are left to guess what hurts and how they feel because they can’t communicate it themselves. 

Aside from Tylenol and Advil to bring to fever and relieve pain, there aren’t any safe medications that children under 6 can take. There are no decongestants or cough suppressants that are safe, which suuuuucks. 

There are a few things, though, that we’ve found really helpful when a bad cough or cold hits and saved us all a little sanity.

Steam/Mist is your friend

When my daughter was about 18 months, I spent a sweaty three hours in the bathroom one night, holding my daughter with the hot shower running in the background. The warm steam was the only thing helping her otherwise relentless cough that was keeping all of us up. So you aren’t being TOO wasteful, it’s a good idea to roll up a towel and put it up against the bottom of the door to trap the steam in. Then you should be able to get away with a steamy room long after you’ve turned off the tap.  

It’s not possible to just hang out in a steamy bathroom until your kid feels better, though, so luckily you can get that moist air on the go using a humidifier. Unlike in the bathroom, the recommended type of humidifier are cool/cold mist. These relatively inexpensive items are a Godsend for all kinds of nighttime coughs and congestion. Check out the Vicks Mini Filter Free Humidifier.

Sit them up

For a better sleep, your child might also benefit from being propped up if they’ll let you. Putting their bed at a slight incline so they’re not lying flat can help with coughing keeping them awake. 

Tip: While this method can work really well, it relies on your little one staying in the same-ish position for sleep. If your child is like mine and flips from end to end throughout the night, best to leave the bed flat so you aren’t accidentally making it worse.

Suck the Snot

I know. I know how gross it sounds. When I heard about this before becoming a parent, I thought, “Ew, never, nope, disgusting!” But when you have a little one struggling to breathe, unable to sleep and suffering, you’ll pretty much do anything... even use your own mouth to suck out the snot. 

The good news is, it’s not as bad as it seems. The “snot suckers” are designed so that the snot is trapped in the device and never gets close to your own mouth. You suck air in through a filter on one end with the other end against their tiny nostril, the snot goes in and you stay slime free. 

The product I swear by is the Nose Frida. I tried two other brands that only kind of worked before I found the Nose Frida and it changed. my. life. 

I give it as a gift to every expecting mom I know. Being able to let your baby breathe again is a huge relief for everyone, believe me.

Drink Up

Everyone knows that when you’re sick, you should drink lots of fluids. That’s usually easy for us as adults, but not always so easy to get stubborn, sick babies to do. 

If you’re breastfeeding, you may have an easier time getting your little to feed more and prevent dehydration that way.

For older toddlers, convincing them to drink water can be nearly impossible. When our daughter is sick with a fever, our “no juice, no sugary drinks” rule goes out the window. If she’s only willing to drink apple juice, she gets it (well, a very diluted version). If she wants a popsicle, I try to find the least unhealthy ones I can and then let her at them. She won’t drink milk but will drink chocolate milk? You bet, coming right up. 

Little indulgences, while they’re sick, are worth it for me as a parent because I know they’re at least getting something in their little bodies and they probably aren’t eating much food. 

Pedialyte, which I think tastes like the syrup they make pop from mixed with salt (barf) but my daughter likes, is another option for when you’re really worried about dehydration - and it comes in “freezie” form too.

If they won’t drink from their regular bottles or cups, try the tiny cups that come with children’s medicine. Some kids are willing to take a tiny cup of water and sip it even when they’ve refused regular drinks. 

A little extra love

A lot of very independent toddlers will turn into cuddly clingers when they’re not feeling well. When your little one isn’t feeling well, sometimes the best thing you can do is give them some extra TLC and the comfort of having you close. 

Remember how grumpy you feel when you get sick and remind yourself that impulse control is not a skill your toddler has yet. Try to be more patient and understanding of their tantrums and meltdowns when they’re sick and let them know you get it, it sucks not feeling well. 

Other tips:

  • Plain honey can be soothing on a sore throat. Some parents give it to their toddlers on a spoon, some mix it in with their milk. Just make sure your little one is over 1 - before 1, honey is a no-no for babies.
  • A warm bath before bed might be part of your regular routine, but we often up that to make any time bath time. If they’re miserable mid-afternoon, sometimes a nice warm bath can be soothing and keep their faces and hands clean... for a few minutes at least.
  • Invest in a decent digital thermometer that can quickly and easily check your kid’s temperature. Some models now have apps so you can sync them to your phone to keep track of temps, as well as log medicine and other symptoms.
  • For high fever, ask your doctor about alternating between fever-reducing medications to keep it under control. 
  • Be mindful of other families and keep your sick kids at home until they’re out of the contagious zone.

Note: There are lots of homeopathic remedies and essential oils out there that claim to be safe for kids under six. Always check the labels and see if YOU (and your doctor) think it’s safe and do your own research. Remember that these remedies don’t go through the same testing and approvals as regular medicine and can be marketed without approval. It can be tempting to grab something when you’re desperate for relief but they can, in rare cases, be toxic and harmful. 

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Taking care of a sick kid can be exhausting and they have a really fun habit of coughing and sneezing directly into our faces. Make sure you’re also staying hydrated and eating well and getting as much sleep as you can to ward off becoming the virus’ next victim.

Hang in there, parents! Only another 8 months til it’s summer again!

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