Seeing a baby suffering from a cold is very difficult to watch for every parent. When his little nose suddenly has become blocked, the crankiness and difficulty with feeding come usually come next. We start to wonder what we can do to help our baby, especially when we’re breastfeeding and trying to soothe our sick little one. Let’s find out what experts say when I did some research on this topic.
So, is breastfeeding a baby with a cold the right thing to do?. Unicef UK says, “Robust evidence exists for the increased incidence of respiratory infections amongst term and moderately pre-term babies who are not breastfed.” It also reports that one study showed that breastfeeding exclusively until 4 months and partially after that reduced the risk of infections including the upper respiratory tract which is a symptom of the common cold. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggests that human milk contains substances like antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells. These substances protect your baby from a wide variety of diseases and infections, not only while you are breastfeeding, but in some cases, as long as after he has weaned.
It’s pretty impressive that breast milk can offer such benefits for our baby’s disease protection, isn’t it? However, it’s good to know exactly what the signs and symptoms of the cold virus are. It is called the “common cold” for a reason and in fact, your baby can get up to 7 or even more colds before his first birthday. You may wonder why has my baby caught a cold when he was staying at home all this time? Well, let’s check that out.
Colds in Babies
Colds affect all ages. It is a major reason why older children miss school and adults miss work. However, babies are the most vulnerable, especially newborn babies and those in their first few months as their immune system is just developing.
Common colds are caused by around 200 kinds of viruses and the most common culprit is the rhinovirus. It becomes more prevalent during the cold season, however, it is also possible to get a cold any time of the year.
The Center for Disease Control and Management (CDC) listed the following risk factors or some of the possible reasons that can increase one’s probability of getting a cold:
- Exposure to someone with the common cold
- Age (infants and young children are at higher risk for colds)
- A weakened immune system
- Taking medications that weaken the immune system like corticosteroids for asthma
- Season (colds are more common during the fall and winter)
For babies, signs, and symptoms of common colds include:
- A runny nose (first, a clear liquid; later, a thicker, often colored mucus)
- Low fever (101–102 degrees Fahrenheit [38.3–38.9 degrees Celsius]), particularly at night
- Poor appetite
- A sore throat and difficulty swallowing
- A cough
- Fussiness on-and-off
- Slightly swollen glands
The virus causing the cold usually first infects the nose and the sinuses (or the air-filled pockets in the face). As a response, the nose produces clear mucus to help wash away the virus to get it removed outside of the body through sneezing. After 2 to 3 days, the mucus changes its color to white, yellow or green. According to the CDC, this is normal and it doesn’t mean your baby needs antibiotics for treatment. A virus is different to bacteria and if it infects your baby, antibiotics won’t treat his cold. The other symptoms may come along and peak at around 2 to 3 days, but could also last up to 10 to 14 days.
How To Help Your Baby Breastfeed
When common colds infect a baby, it is harder to manage since most babies can’t verbalize how they feel. Oftentimes, when the mucus blocks the airways, congestion follows. As a result, babies tend to have difficulty in feeding and may even refuse to breastfeed. However, experts advise that mothers should continue to breastfeed their baby during the course of a cold infection as, during this time, babies need adequate fluids in their body to help fight the illness and to help them recover sooner.
If your breastfed baby’s nose becomes too stuffy to breastfeed, here are some tips to help clear his air passages:
- Run a cool mist vaporizer in your baby’s room
- Before taking him to the bathroom, fill the room with steam from the shower
- Use a nasal aspirator to suction mucus from your baby’s nose. Squeeze the bulb, gently insert the tip to one nostril, then release the bulb. This will create a gentle suction that can pull out the excess mucus from the nose.
- Add a pinch of salt to a cup of warm water. Using an eyedropper, you can quirt a few drops on your baby’s nostrils. Alternately, you can use a commercially prepared saline nasal spray.
You can ask your health care provider to show you how to use the nasal aspirator and nasal spray if it is your first time. For newly born babies up to 3 months of age, it is recommended to see your pediatrician with the first sign of colds. This is to make sure that you are properly guided on how to manage your baby’s condition until he gets better.
Tips to Prevent Transmission of The Cold
Prevention is always better than cure, especially with young babies whose immune system is yet to develop. The common cold is a contagious virus that can spread very fast from one person to another via droplets that have come from sneezing and coughing, direct contact or handling contaminated items. The good news here is that boosting your baby’s immune system coupled with proper sanitation techniques can help prevent your baby from getting infected. Let’s explain what we are talking about with these preventive measures.
To boost your baby’s immune system:
- Continue breastfeeding your baby.
- Eat and live healthy, especially while breastfeeding. What you eat is also what you feed your baby.
- Make sure your baby gets enough sleep because it helps the body recover sooner.
- Once your baby is 6 months and older, you can offer him healthy and balanced meals as supplementary feeding.
- For babies 6 months and older, offering enough fluids, especially water, can help in addition to breastfeeding.
Tips to keep your baby away from the cold virus:
- Avoid bringing your baby to crowded places, especially during the cold season: the more people, the more chances that your baby will catch the virus from an infected person. These include public places such as malls, schools or churches.
- Keep your baby away from people whom you already know are sick.
- Avoid allowing several people to hug or kiss your young baby. These gestures are nice, but you can let them understand gently that your baby is still very young and susceptible to catching a cold.
- When at a play date where you have discovered a baby has a cold, it can be difficult but try to limit direct contact to lessen the chance of getting the cold.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces your baby frequently gets in touch with such as the diaper changing area, baby toys etc.
To prevent the spread of the cold virus:
If your baby or someone in your family is sick, you can minimize the spread of the cold virus to other family members through the following measures.
- Try to prevent close contact as far as is possible if you are sick.
- Avoid close contact like hugging, kissing, or holding the sick person.
- When you need to breastfeed and you are sick, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your baby.
- Use disposable tissues or wipes to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or if you have a cough, or when you are wiping your baby’s mucous secretions. Throw them right after use.
Can breast milk help a baby with a cold?
Yes, experts suggest that breast milk has a unique adaptive mechanism that can help the sick baby feel better even help prevent future infections. Apart from its healthy fat, sugar and protein contents, breast milk is found to contain antibodies that can boost a baby’s immune response. These substances can naturally protect a baby, not only from colds but from a wide variety of diseases and infections. Breastfeeding is also the most ideal way to increase your baby’s fluid intake during this stressful time.
Do babies breastfeed more when sick?
Some babies tend to breastfeed more to soothe themselves, while other babies may tend to have difficulty in breathing due to congested air passages, so they end up refusing to feed. The most important thing to keep in mind is that babies need to breastfeed more often with less volume when they are sick. It is also helpful to find ways to alleviate their congestion as described above so that feeding time will run more smoothly.
Can you still breastfeed if you have a cold?
Yes, you can breastfeed while following some preventive measures like hand washing and covering your face when sneezing or coughing.
When breastfeeding, you just need to be extra careful before you take any cough or cold medications since they can also be transmitted via breast milk and affect your baby. Check with your health care practitioner before taking any over-the-counter medications to relieve your cold symptoms.
Overall, we can say that continuous breastfeeding can help soothe our little baby when he has a cold and can even offer extended protection after. Isn’t it wonderful to get all of that for free?
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