5 Sick Baby Hacks to Try & 3 to Skip

Mother holding sick baby coughing

The combination of a baby and cold or flu season could make for some long nights and crabby days in your home. Whether your baby is bringing home bugs from daycare or family gatherings or suffering from a tough diaper rash, there are a few things you can do to keep little ones more comfortable. Pediatrician Laura Hirl, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains five ways to soothe a sick baby and three things you might want to skip. 

How to Soothe a Sick Baby

You might feel helpless when your baby comes down with an illness. But, here are a few ways to help him/her feel more comfortable while battling bugs.

  1. Shower Steam. Have your little one in the bathroom while running a shower and letting the room become steamy helps loosen nose secretions, so it doesn’t build up causing breathing or coughing difficulty. Using a humidifier in the child’s room serves the same purpose. Cool mist is recommended over warm humidifiers in order to avoid accidental burns from the device.
  2. Lukewarm Baths. Giving a lukewarm bath (not a cold-water bath) to a sick baby can help the body regulate temperature back to a more normal level. Infant acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also help bring down a temperate. Make sure to check the product instruction, and talk to your doctor if you plan to use over-the-counter medications. However, Dr. Hirl suggests only taking these steps to reduce a temperature when a child is acting uncomfortable. Fever is a child’s way of fighting off infection, so fever alone shouldn’t be too worrisome. In children older than 3 months of age, a fever can be treated at home, if the child is otherwise acting OK. Children younger than 3 months old should be seen by a doctor, if a fever reaches 100.4. 
  3. Nose Suction & Saline. While the NoseFrida might looks gross, it and other suction devices can help when little ones are congested. Infants can’t blow their noses like adults, and therefore, using a small amount of saline to the nose followed by suction allows the nasal passages to be cleared more effectively than just wiping the outside of the nose. They’ll breathe easier and sleep better if their nasal passages are cleared.
  4. Homemade Diaper Cream. At times, different bugs and/or medications can lead to baby poop that is more acidic causing a diaper rash. For a rash that appears raw and irritated, this mixture works well to provide a good barrier to the skin, an antibiotic for the raw and open skin and a soothing agent with the antacid.
               -  ½ tube A&D Ointment
               -  ½ tube of Zinc Oxide (Desitin)
              -  1 tablespoon Bacitracin
              -  1 tablespoon liquid antacid (Maalox or Mylanta)
  5. Athlete’s Foot Cream. Athlete’s foot cream (Clotrimazole) treats a certain kind of diaper rash caused by yeast. The cream can actually treat a yeast infection on any external place on the body. Yeast infection rashes usually appear as raised red dots or bumps. If you try the athlete’s foot cream and the rash doesn’t improve, you should go see the doctor.

Sick Baby Hacks to Skip

While the list goes on and on, Dr. Hirl would recommend you skip a few common suggestions.

  1. Raised Mattress. From a safe sleep standpoint, all children age one and under should be placed on their own sleep surfaces, flat on their backs, with nothing else in the crib. Typically, adding a rolled or folded towel under the mattress will add incline, which is not recommended.
  2. Baby Vicks on Feet. Some parents feel Vicks, a popular vapor rub, helps a child feel more comfortable and decreases coughing. While there is no harm in doing this, Dr. Hirl says she hasn’t seen results to convince her that it actually makes a difference when treating a child’s illness.
  3. Alternating Acetaminophen & Ibuprofen. Tylenol and ibuprofen are safe to use together, if needed. However, Dr. Hirl doesn’t typically recommend using these products on an alternating basis, as it can be confusing to parents and could lead to potentially incorrect dosing. Tylenol can be given as often as every four hours and ibuprofen every six hours.

Illness vs. Teething

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell if children are teething or have an illness,” Dr. Hirl says. Unfortunately, viral illnesses are very common and often overlap with teething.”

Teething symptoms include:

  • Fussiness
  • Drooling
  • Running a low grade temperature (usually not higher than 101)
  • Chewing fingers or other objects

Illness can include some of the same symptoms as teething but also include a few others, including:

If fever or fussiness persists for a few days and you are concerned about the possibilities of an underlying illness, then see your doctor for a complete exam.

What to Expect as a New Parent

“Illnesses will happen, it’s a part of life,” Dr. Hirl says.

Babies are exposed to many infections during their first cold and flu season, and it’s not uncommon for them to see upward of 10 bugs in that season. Their bodies are seeing these viruses for the first time, so it may take longer for an infant to recover compared to an older child or adult.

“Infants put things in their mouths, drool and therefore, illness can be spread easily from infant to infant. It’s not uncommon to feel as if your child spends more days each month with a runny nose than without a runny nose,” Dr. Hirl says.

An infant often has more exposure to viral infections when in a large group of similar children, like in daycare settings. Babies who don’t attend daycare may seem to get more viral infections in the first year of school.

“Any time your body sees a bug for the first time, your immune response isn’t established, and how quickly you heal from the virus will be slower than in the future when you are exposed to the virus once again,” Dr. Hirl says.