Whether you’re avoiding germs outside your home or you’re the one who’s sick, here’s how to help your baby stay healthy

A few weeks ago, my one-year-old and I flew to visit family out of state. The trip there was relatively smooth, save for a few mood swings and a leaky diaper situation, but a couple of days into our stay my throat started to feel like it was lined with sandpaper and I knew that my first cold of the season was officially here. There’s never a “good” time to have a cold, but I hated the prospect of a rockier return flight if my daughter caught it and had to suffer through congestion and painful ear pressure on the plane. As a nurse, I went into germ-prevention mode to avoid getting her sick—and with a lot of diligence (and a little luck), it worked! (As a reward, she treated me to an uneventful ride home.)

Since newborn immune systems aren’t completely mature, they’re especially vulnerable to becoming very ill with viruses that are annoying but otherwise harmless in older kids and adults. When it comes to keeping babies safe from the season’s nastiest respiratory viruses, the good news is you probably already learned some of the key advice when you brought yours home from the hospital: Wash your hands often, pop a bottle of hand sanitizer by the door for visitors, and don’t let anyone who’s ill hang with your baby. But what if you’re the one who’s sick and you still have to take care of them?

As a nurse and mom, I’ve seen how taking a few extra proactive steps can protect your little ones from colds and other respiratory viruses like RSV, COVID-19, and the flu, even as they age out of the danger zone. Whether the germs are inside or outside your house, here are some of the most common viruses and what I recommend to keep them at bay.

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Which respiratory viruses are most common in babies?

Respiratory viruses are spread by droplets that are released into the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes. We become sick when the virus enters our respiratory tract through either direct person-to-person contact, by breathing in infected droplets, or by touching a contaminated object and then touching the mucous membranes on our face such as our eyes, nose, and mouth.

Common Cold

Many cases of the common cold result from a rhinovirus infection. For babies, the symptoms of a cold and those of more serious illnesses can look the same at first. If your baby is less than 3 months old, cold symptoms or a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher warrants an immediate call to the pediatrician.
What to look for: Stuffy or runny nose, unusually fussy, fever.

COVID-19

COVID-19 spreads much more easily than other respiratory viruses like the cold or the flu. In addition to coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can also spread from talking or singing. While kids aren’t as likely as adults to become very ill with COVID-19, some do end up in the hospital with respiratory support from a ventilator.
What to look for: Fever, cough, extreme tiredness, nausea, diarrhea.

RSV

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus and is especially dangerous if your baby is less than 6 months old. This is because if they catch it, their first symptom may be apnea, which means they take long pauses in breathing, causing their oxygen level to drop. Babies with RSV are often hospitalized because they require medical care and oxygen support until the infection resolves.
What to look for: Apnea, runny nose, cough, and sometimes a fever.



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