More than 200 viruses are known to cause the common cold, and sooner or later your baby will encounter one. Babies’ immune systems are immature, so they are less likely to fight off cold-causing bacteria. Most babies have 8 to 10 colds by age 2.
The good news is that most newborn colds do not require treatment and do not progress to anything serious. While no one wants to see their child get sick, exposure to viruses such as the common cold can be good for a child’s immune system. The next time a germ invades, the body recognizes it and launches an attack.
This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, treatments (including home remedies) of upper respiratory infections in newborns, and when to see a doctor.
Symptoms of a Newborn Cold
The symptoms of a cold in a newborn are much like the symptoms you see in adults. They include:
- runny nose (the mucus may be clear or yellow/green)
- loss of appetite
- Irritability (you may notice your baby cry more or seem fussy)
- Difficulty feeding (due to nasal congestion)
- fever, usually low-grade
Symptoms usually peak on the second or third day of a cold and then gradually improve over the next 10-14 days.
While the flu (influenza) shares some symptoms with the common cold, it tends to strike quickly and make the baby feel worse. Some flu symptoms to look out for include:
- runny nose / stuffy nose
- Fever (above 100 degrees)
- make a fuss
- very sleepy
Early flu symptoms in children
In infants, whooping cough (also called whooping cough) can be a life-threatening respiratory infection.It is made up of a Bordetella pertussis It is spread through the coughing and sneezing of an infected person.
Whooping cough is highly contagious. Eight out of 10 non-immune people exposed to the bacteria become infected.
When the infection occurs in young children, it can lead to serious health complications. About 25% of babies treated for whooping cough will develop pneumonia (lung infection) and 1%–2% will die.
Symptoms of whooping cough can appear five days to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria and can look a lot like the common cold, at least initially. Early symptoms include:
- runny nose
- mild cough (although some babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all)
- low-grade fever
- Apnea (shortness of breath)
Later symptoms include:
- Severe cough: The cough tends to be dry.
- Panting: While adults and older children make a “wheeze” sound when they inhale after coughing, young infants don’t have the strength to make this sound, despite their effort to breathe.
- Vomiting during or after a coughing attack
Croup is an upper respiratory infection caused by the same virus that causes the common cold. When a cough is forced through these swollen, tight airways, it makes a sound much like a seal barking.
Croup is most common in winter and in children 3 months to 5 years of age, with most croup cases occurring in children around 2 years of age.
Symptoms of croup include:
- runny nose
- stuffy nose
- “barking” cough
- The whistling sound your child makes when they breathe in (called stridor)
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
respiratory syncytial virus Causes a cold-like illness. In babies under 6 months, this can be dangerous.
It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (an infection that swells the small airways in the lungs, leading to breathing problems) and pneumonia in children under the age of 1 in the United States. Most children are infected with RSV by age 2.
In older children and adults, RSV produces many of the same symptoms as the common cold. But in younger babies, the symptoms are a little different. The only symptoms you can easily see are:
- lethargy (lack of energy)
- breathing problems
Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs caused by a viral or bacterial (bacterial) infection. The swelling of the lungs that accompanies pneumonia can make breathing difficult.
Very young babies (under 1 month old) usually do not cough with pneumonia, but older babies do. Other symptoms to look for include:
- Shortness of breath
- Contraction (the chest draws in when the baby breathes)
Colds are caused by viruses (not bacteria), with rhinoviruses being the most common culprit. Other viruses that can cause colds are respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, common human coronavirus, and human metapneumovirus.
The virus is spread through droplets expelled by an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. Even talking and laughing can release droplets.
If your baby inhales these particles, touches the surface they land on, or unfortunately lets droplets land in their eyes, mouth or nose, they can become infected.
Most colds in newborns are not serious and do not require medical treatment (but if you have any concerns, please contact your healthcare provider).
Since colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, antibiotics are not effective. However, about 5%–10% of children develop secondary bacterial infections, such as ear infections, which may require antibiotic treatment.
Other things to note:
- Do not use fever reducers, such as infant Tylenol (acetaminophen), in infants younger than 3 months without first consulting your healthcare provider. A baby with a fever needs medical evaluation.
- Do not use over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines on infants and children under the age of 6. They are not proven to be effective, and they can cause some serious side effects.
- Do not give your child aspirin (even baby aspirin) without first consulting your healthcare provider. Aspirin use in children and adolescents has been linked to a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome.
While you can’t cure a newborn’s cold, you can help relieve symptoms, including:
- Put a drop or two of saline nasal drops in each nostril, then use a rubber ball to suck out as much mucus as you can. This relieves nasal congestion, which is especially important before feedings.
- Put a cool mist humidifier in your child’s room to help reduce congestion from your baby’s lungs and nose. Be sure to clean the humidifier according to the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, which can irritate the lungs.
- Try to maintain your baby’s fluid intake. For newborn babies, provide breast milk or formula. For babies over 6 months, you can provide water.
- Sit with your baby in the steam room for about 15 minutes (turn on the hot water in the shower and close the bathroom door). This can help ease congestion. Do not leave your baby unattended. Also, keep a safe distance from hot water.
Do not give honey to babies
Never give honey to babies under 1 year old. This is not safe. It carries the risk of infant botulism, a serious gastrointestinal disease caused by bacterial spores. Honey is sometimes used to relieve coughs in older children and adults.
when to see a doctor
While most newborns recover fully from a cold, infections can escalate into more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia. Call your healthcare provider if your baby has any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing (note shortness of breath, wheezing, contractions, or bluish complexion/lips)
- Fever (under 2 months)
- loss of appetite
- Symptoms do not improve and last for more than 10 days
The best way to protect your child from respiratory infections like colds and flu is to practice good personal hygiene, avoid people you know who are sick, and get yourself and your child properly vaccinated. Steps include:
- Always cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue or, in a pinch, your elbow.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after petting your baby—especially after sneezing or coughing. Ask other caregivers to do the same.
- Clean surfaces and toys that your baby touches frequently.
- Get the flu shot, if your baby is over 6 months old, and ask all your caregivers and other family members to get the flu shot too.
- Consider breastfeeding. Antibodies in breast milk can help your baby fight many infections, including those you may have been exposed to. It also has properties that help stimulate your baby’s own immune system.
Upper respiratory infections such as colds are common in infants. Their immune systems are not yet fully developed, which makes it difficult for them to fight off these bacteria.
Most babies, even newborn babies, make a full recovery. But it’s important to watch for signs of problems, such as fever, difficulty breathing, and a severe cough. These are signs that your baby needs immediate medical attention.
It is natural to want to protect your child from dangers, big and small. But bacteria are everywhere. Your baby may catch a cold in the first few months of life. While this can be scary, especially in a newborn baby, it’s important to remember that most kids are fine with a cold.
There’s not much you can do to make a newborn’s cold go away faster than Mother Nature expects, but you can help them feel more comfortable with some home remedies. Feel free to call your child’s healthcare provider when you have any questions or concerns or just want some reassurance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do newborn colds last?
Most colds in newborns go away in about 10 to 14 days.
How long does it take for a newborn to catch a cold?
In both newborns and adults, colds are contagious one to two days before symptoms appear and until symptoms go away—usually within two weeks.