Parents, especially new parents, hate seeing their babies suffer. Plus with all the warnings about over-the-counter medications and children under the age of 4, parents of infants are often confused. What’s safe? What’s effective? How can you ease common symptoms in your baby and maintain peace of mind?
Helping babies feel better is as much an art as it is a science. Who better to ask for advice than moms like you and seasoned docs?
Congestion: Moms’ Advice
Congestion tends to be more challenging to deal with in babies than it is in adults. Why? Because babies can’t blow their noses.
To tackle stuffy noses and coughs, moms often recommend propping up the bed along with variations on the theme of water -- think steam and saline. One mom swears by her cool mist humidifier, while others recommend saline spray and a nasal bulb to loosen and suction away mucus.
Miriam Schechter, MD, an attending pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York, is also a fan of the saline-and-nasal-aspirator approach for relieving nasal congestion.
She also suggests that parents invest in a humidifier. “This is something parents will get a lot of use out of,” she says. “There’s no magic cure for a cold, but putting moisture in the air can loosen mucus and help it drain out a little better.” A vaporizer can also soothe a sore throat.
When buying a humidifier, she says, choose a simple, inexpensive model. “When patients ask whether to buy cool mist or warm, I recommend cool mist for safety,” she says. “The warm mists have a heating element; you don’t want a child to stick his hand in front of that hot steam or to knock it over. But a cool mist humidifier is something parents will find very useful.”
Constipation: Moms’ Advice
Often the transition to eating solid food changes a baby’s elimination patterns. If your baby is having a hard time having bowel movements, try an ounce of good old-fashioned prune or apple juice.
Moms tend to worry if their babies skip a day, says Schechter. “It doesn’t bother us unless the stool is pebbly or dry.”
Schechter addresses constipation first with education, by explaining to parents what’s normal. As long as baby’s stools are soft and don’t cause discomfort when being passed, the child is probably not constipated, even if the baby goes only once a week.
But if your baby’s bowel movements are hard and dry, she suggests mixing up baby’s diet by cutting back on bananas and adding more fruit juice or baby prunes. “We wouldn’t use medication as a first-line treatment,” she says.
Colic: Moms’ Advice
Colic is frustrating -- and nerve jangling -- to most parents, but veteran mothers assure new moms that the screaming typically stops at some point in the fourth month of life. In the meantime, moms advise, try keeping your little one on the move. Walk your baby. Use the baby swing. And take your baby for car rides.
One mother, who said she did laps around her neighborhood with her son, urges moms of colicky kids to take personal time outs. “If you need to put your little one down for five or 10 minutes just to take a break from the crying, don't feel bad,” she says. “It's hard work and even a five minute break for you in another room can help you get the energy to go back and try again.”
Barton Schmitt, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and author of Pediatric Telephone Protocols and the KidsDoc Symptom Checker App for the iPhone, recommends Dr. Harvey Karp’s Five S’s approach to colic. Karp, the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, says swaddling, side/stomach positioning in your arms, shushing loudly, swinging, and sucking on a pacifier can often soothe the savage crier.
“What’s the most important S?” Schmitt asks. “Swaddling. Every parent needs to know how to swaddle their baby. The second most important S: shushing.” By mimicking the environment of the uterus, he says, you are helping your baby with the transition from the womb to the world.
Fever: Moms’ Advice
Moms told WebMD they provide relief with over-the-counter fever reducers, fluids, and by encouraging sleep. Most advise a "when-in-doubt-call-the-doc" strategy.
“Just to put your mind at ease,” advises one mom, “I would call the pediatrician. At least then they will have a record of you calling in and you might get a little more info on what to do.”
For infants with fevers under the age of 3 months, they need to be seen quickly, says Schmitt.
Once your baby is older, he says, read your child, not the thermometer. In other words, your baby’s behavior and other symptoms are more important than the number on the thermometer. If your baby is active and alert and has a fever under 102 degrees, he doesn’t advise bringing it down.
“We have fever phobia,” he says. “Fever is working for us. It’s one of the good guys by helping to kill the infection.” For higher temperatures, he recommends infant fever reducers, never aspirin, to make your baby feel better.
Diarrhea: Moms’ Advice
This may be the one case where it’s OK for your baby to be a BRAT. If you baby has diarrhea, try the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These foods, one mother says, help bind baby up.
Other moms told WebMD to keep babies hydrated with electrolyte solutions. And steer clear of fruit juice, which can encourage loose stools.
“We want them to flush it all out,” Schechter says. “The main thing we worry about is dehydration, but we don’t give them medicine.”
"If the diarrhea is severe or bloody, you need to take your baby to the doctor to check the stool for infection,” Schechter says. “But if the baby is having loose stool, eating well, has no fever, it can go on for a week before we’d check out.” Don’t forget to add a Y to the BRAT diet -- the Y stands for yogurt. The probiotics in yogurt hasten recovery.