Your baby’s first cold can be a distressing time, though colds can usually be managed easily. While it’s understandable to feel upset or concerned about your baby’s runny nose, cough, or crankiness, remember that each cold helps to build their immune system. Babies generally have between 5 to 10 colds a year, so the better you become at staying calm, the better your little one’s experience might be.

How do I know if my baby has a cold?

Common signs that your baby has caught a cold include:

  • Blocked nose
  • Runny nose
  • Change in appetite (wants less or more feeds)
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Crying more often
  • Change in mood
  • The baby seems extra irritable
  • Fever or chills

Treating a cold

Colds are caused by a virus, not bacteria. This means antibiotics do nothing to treat a cold. Each time your baby is exposed to a virus, their immune system learns how to fight it; by the time they’re an adult, they should experience only two to four colds a year, rather than 5 to 10.

Colds typically last for 7 to 10 days. Coughs can last for up to three weeks. If your baby is showing symptoms for longer than this or you are otherwise concerned, make sure to let your doctor know.

Some of the main things that can help your baby through a cold are getting enough rest and enough fluids. Depending on your child’s age and weight, they may be able to take paracetamol or ibuprofen; consult your pharmacist or GP and always follow dosage instructions.

When you and your baby have been exposed to a virus, your breastmilk’s composition changes to help fight the illness. If you’re breastfeeding, do your best to continue to breastfeed. The baby may reject the breast due to a blocked nose or sore throat, but with some persistence and patience, the breastmilk can soothe their throat and boost their immune system. A lactation consultant can help you through breastfeeding troubles.

If you choose to bottlefeed but are still producing breastmilk, trying breastfeeding could help reduce the length and severity of your baby’s cold. Breastfeeding is not for every family and is a personal choice; choosing not to breastfeed your sick baby does not mean you don’t want to help them feel better.

If your baby has a runny nose, be careful when wiping their nose for them. Invest in some soft tissues, wipe gently and not too often. If the skin under or around their nose becomes irritated, try soothing it with some petroleum jelly or cream or lotion approved by your pharmacist or GP. A suction bulb could also relieve congestion.

If your baby is displaying any of these symptoms, consult your doctor:

  • Temperature higher than 38.5C
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath, noisy or fast breathing
  • Neck stiffness
  • Difficulty waking up or unusual drowsiness
  • A skin rash
  • Vomiting
  • Persistent cough
  • Bulging of the fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby’s head)
  • A strange high-pitched cry
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite/not drinking/feeding poorly
  • Earache

Cuddles are the best medicine

Being held and cuddled releases the feel-good hormone Oxytocin (for both of you). Giving your baby lots of cuddles may help to keep them calm and happy, and might kick their body into repair mode. Of course, hugs are not a substitute for rest, fluids, and medicine, but they definitely don’t hurt!