Your Cold, Flu, and RSV Toolkit for Babies
Keeping hands clean, disinfecting germy surfaces, and getting your annual flu shot are great ways to help protect kids from seasonal sickies. But we all know that colds, flus, and respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV) can still sneak in, leaving your little one sneezing, coughing, feverish, and struggling with sleep—and you feeling helpless. While there’s no cure for these common childhood ills, there are some ways soothe your baby or toddler’s seasonal symptoms. Stock up on these under-the-weather helpers to help get your little one through sniffle season.
Cold & Flu Product Must-Haves
Cold & Flu Must-Have #1: Nasal Aspirator
Babies breathe out of their noses, so they hate when it's filled with mucus! If you’re ick-ed out by a manual nasal aspirator or bulb syringe, consider an electronic version. Be sure to push the air out of the snot-sucker with your thumb before you place it into your bub’s nostril.
Cold & Flu Must-Have #2: Saline Drops
Use a dropper to put some saline or breastmilk in Baby’s nose and then remove it with a snot sucker! Both help break up mucus, and breastmilk has the added bonus of containing antiviral properties that may help protect against colds.
Cold & Flu Must-Have #3: Swaddle
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends swaddling infants to help keep them calm while getting the flu shot. Plus, swaddling makes snot sucking easier—and promotes healing ZZZs! (My Sleepea Swaddle makes creating the perfect wrap easy-as-can-be!)
Cold & Flu Must-Have #4: Humidifier
A cool mist humidifier (also called a vaporizer) helps loosen nasal mucus and moisturize an irritated airway, making it a must-have nursery staple…especially if you live in a dry climate or high altitude. Remember to use distilled water and clean your humidifier regularly (if you don’t keep your humidifier clean, mold and bacteria can grow…which can make your kiddo sick). Also, it’s important to use a cool mist humidifier—hot humidifiers can cause burns!
Cold & Flu Must-Have #5: Thermometer
You’ll need a rectal thermometer if your baby’s under 3 months, and this type of thermometer remains the best choice for babies up to 6 months old. Between 6 months and 4 years old you can use a digital thermometer, a tympanic (ear) thermometer, or a digital thermometer to take an axillary (armpit) temperature. And don’t forget replacement batteries! (Learn all about fever in babies and how to properly take their temperature.)
Cold & Flu Must-Have #6: White Noise Machine
White noise does a wonderful job helping to distract little ones from minor disturbances, like a stuffy nose. And during the first three to four months, white noise also activates your baby’s natural calming reflex, which acts as their “off switch” for crying and “on switch” for sleep. (All of my Happiest Baby white noise machines, like SNOObie and SNOObear, play the just-right soothing sounds for baby sleep!)
Cold & Flu Must-Have #7: Fever Reliever
Infant and children's over-the-counter fever and pain meds (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) can make an uncomfortable bub feel more comfortable (but they don't kill viruses). Talk to your doctor about dosage.
Cold & Flu Must-Have #8: Pulse Oximeter
A pulse oximeter is a small device that usually clips onto your child’s finger or toe to quickly check their oxygen levels and heart rate. This device can provide peace of mind or give you helpful information to share with your care provider when your little one is sick…but know that monitoring oxygen at home does not replace consultation with your child’s doctor! If you’re using a pulse oximeter for your baby, make sure the one your pick out is designed to be used with infants (many children’s pulse oximeters are only meant to be used on tots 2 and up).
Cold & Flu Products to Avoid
With that, there are some typical “get better” products that parents should keep out of their medicine cabinet for Baby’s first year…or, in some cases, longer. Some of these items are dangerous, some are useless—and none should be used to help sick babies!
Cold & Flu Must-Avoid #1: Zinc Spray
Zinc nasal spray, drops, and gels can harm the nerves in your little one’s tiny nose, damaging Baby’s ability to smell! Plus, zinc is not widely used to treat any health condition in children. It’s only used under a doctor’s care to treat deficiencies from malnutrition or malabsorption issues.
Cold & Flu Must-Avoid #2: Honey
The sweet stuff may contain bacteria that cause botulism in babies under 1 year old…but honey is a solid symptom-soother for older kids! It thins mucus and loosens cough. For tykes ages 1 to 5 years, half a teaspoon of honey can often do the trick!
Cold & Flu Must-Avoid #3: Chest Rubs
Mentholated chest rubs can get in a baby’s eyes and be very irritating. That’s why they’re not recommended for tots under 2. If your child is older, feel free to rub a thick layer on your tyke’s chest and on the skin in front of the neck.
Cold & Flu Must-Avoid #4: Cough and Cold Meds
They don’t help children under 4—and there’s potential for serious side effects and overdose. Even if your tot is between 4 and 6 years, only use cough meds if recommended by your child's doctor. (Learn more about why cough and cold medicines aren’t right for your baby.)
Cold & Flu Must-Avoid #5: Lozenges
If your bub is under 4, avoid cough drops—they’re a choking hazard! And remember, cough drops are not candy. Don’t give your over-4-year-old more cough drops than what the instructions on the package note.
More help getting through cold and flu season:
- 9 Best Germ Hacks for Protecting Your Baby
- How cold is too cold for a baby to be outside?
- Enterovirus Explainer: All the Info You Need
- Winter Care Tips for Newborns
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.