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Colds in newborns are common. However, while most colds are not cause for concern, it’s important to monitor symptoms closely and know when to seek treatment.

All babies are born with some immunity to illness. Even so, it takes time for their brand new immune systems to fully mature. This makes babies susceptible to viral infections, which cause colds.

There are over 200 types of viruses that can cause colds. Luckily, most of the colds your baby gets will help increase their immunity. Even so, their very first cold can be scary for parents.

A baby can catch a cold at any age or time of year. In fact, they may get as many as 8 to 10 a year in their first 2 years. If your little one is around older children, their chances of getting colds may increase.

Common colds in newborns aren’t dangerous, but they can quickly escalate into conditions that are, such as pneumonia or croup. Any illness in a baby under 3 months old is a reason to call their pediatrician, especially if they’re running a fever.

A stuffed or runny nose may be your first clue that your newborn has caught a cold. Their nasal discharge may start out as thin and clear, but turn thicker and yellowish-green in color over several days. This is normal, and doesn’t mean your baby’s cold is getting worse.

Other symptoms include:

  • fussiness
  • fever
  • coughing, especially at night
  • sneezing
  • reduced appetite
  • difficulty breastfeeding or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion
  • trouble falling or staying asleep

Colds in newborns have some of the same symptoms as other illnesses, such as the flu, croup, and pneumonia. This can make diagnosis at home more stressful for parents.

Flu

If your newborn has the flu, they may have chills, vomiting, and diarrhea in addition to common cold symptoms. They may also have symptoms you can’t see and that they can’t tell you about, including headache, muscle or body aches, or sore throat.

Getting a flu shot every year can help keep you from getting sick and protect others around you, including your newborn.

Pneumonia

A cold can advance to pneumonia quickly. Symptoms may include:

Croup

If your baby’s cold escalates to croup, they may have difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and a barking cough. They may also have stridor, a type of high-pitched sound that occurs due to obstructed airflow.

RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a serious cause of respiratory infection that can affect people of all ages. But it is particularly serious for babies, because their airways are smaller.

Learn more about RSV in babies.

Bronchiolitis

Babies are frequently hospitalized with bronchiolitis, an inflammatory respiratory condition that affects the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchioles). It’s the most common cause of hospitalization in preterm infants. Viral bronchiolitis is often caused by RSV.

Whooping cough

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a type of respiratory infection that causes congestion, sneezing, and a severe cough. Though it can affect people of all ages, it can be very serious for babies under one year of age.

Getting vaccinated can help prevent caregivers from passing whooping cough to their newborn. Babies should also be vaccinated against whooping cough according to the routine vaccine schedule.

Another name for a common cold is a viral, upper respiratory infection. They aren’t caused by bacterial infections and don’t respond to antibiotics.

Your baby’s pediatrician may take a nasal swab to determine the cause of your baby’s symptoms. Blood tests may also be used to help rule out a bacterial infection.

Bacterial infections sometimes develop as complications from viral infections. They can also cause illnesses, such as pneumonia or ear infections.

Colds in newborns aren’t unusual. The viruses which cause them can live in the air and on hard surfaces for short periods of time. That makes it possible for transmission to occur with or without direct contact to someone who’s sick.

Babies who are around older children may be more likely to get colds. But even a trip to the pediatrician’s office, a cuddle with a loving adult, or a stroll to the store can expose your baby to germs.

Breastfed babies have more immunity than babies exclusively fed formula. This is because breastfeeding supplies antibodies, white blood cells, and enzymes to your baby, which help safeguard them from infection.

Breastfed babies have all, or part, of their mother’s immunity to the illnesses she has had or been exposed to. This doesn’t, however, mean breastfed babies are completely immune from colds.

A baby under 3 months old should be seen by a doctor if they have a cold. This will help rule out more serious conditions, and will also put your mind at ease.

Fever is one way your baby’s body works to fight off colds. Even so, a fever of 101°F (39°C) or higher in a baby who’s under 3 months old warrants a call to the doctor.

You should also call your doctor if your older baby has a persistent fever or other symptoms.

No matter their age, a fever that persists for more than 5 days warrants a call to the doctor and likely a visit.

Keep an eye on all of your baby’s symptoms. They should see a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • rash
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • persistent or croupy cough
  • odd, unusual-sounding cry
  • trouble breathing
  • retractions — when the areas below and between the ribs and in the neck sink in with each attempt to inhale
  • thick or bloody mucus from the nose or mouth
  • fever for more than 5 days
  • rubbing their ear, or other sign of physical discomfort or pain anywhere in their body
  • signs of dehydration, such as not wetting as many diapers as they usually do
  • refusal to nurse or take a bottle
  • bluish tinge around nail pads or lips

You know your little one best. If they just don’t seem like themselves, call their pediatrician so you can rule out anything more serious than a cold. That’s what the doctor is there for.

In many cases, treatment for a cold involves taking steps to help ease symptoms and keep your baby comfortable.

This may include helping them stay hydrated, using a humidifier, or suctioning nasal mucus to clear up a stuffy nose.

Over-the-counter medications, including fever reducers and cold medications, should not be used unless directed by a doctor.

Treating a newborn cold at home

Home treatment for a newborn’s cold consists of helping them feel comfortable. Do’s and don’ts include:

Other treatments for colds

There are no other treatments for an infant’s cold except the passage of time. The best thing you can do is make sure that you or another caring adult stays close by to provide comfort. This will help your baby relax and get the rest they need.

Shop for saline drops and humidifiers online.

The average cold may last as long as 10 to 14 days. This includes the period of time when babies don’t display many symptoms but are contagious, as well as the period of time when they’re starting to act normally but still have crusty noses and nasal discharge.

Breastfeeding your baby can help boost their immunity. Even small amounts of breast milk supplemented with formula can help. This is especially true of antibody-rich colostrum, the first type of breast milk you produce when your baby is born.

You can’t keep your baby in a hermetically sealed environment. But you can help avoid exposure to some germs using the following guidelines:

  • Wash your hands often and ask visitors to do the same.
  • Avoid contact with people who are ill, and wipe down surfaces that have been touched by people who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Ask people who come into contact with your baby to cough or sneeze into their elbows, rather than into their hands.
  • If possible, limit your baby’s contact with older children.
  • Make sure the adults and children around your newborn are current on their pertussis vaccine and have received the flu shot.

Colds are caused by viruses and are common in newborns. Even breastfed babies get colds, although their immunity is greater than babies who aren’t breastfed.

Colds aren’t serious, but they can turn into more serious illnesses. It’s important to have your pediatrician look at your baby if they have a cold and are under 3 months old — especially if they’re running a fever or have other symptoms.

Don’t hesitate to make this phone call! Your baby’s doctor will be happy to help rule out more serious conditions and put your mind at ease.

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