Newborns and infants rely on you to care for their every need. From hunger to hygiene, you comfort and care for your baby. You could do your best to keep your baby healthy and happy, but they might still come down with a cold or flu.
Infants lack fully developed immune systems, making them more susceptible to viral infection. When they do get infected, your baby relies entirely on your care to monitor, soothe, and support them back to health.
Preventing and preparing for illness during your baby's first winter can offer peace of mind as you approach cold and flu season.
Your environment, nutrition, and gut microbiome largely influence your and your baby's immune system. However, your baby is just getting started developing their gut microbiome, so their immune system is still in its infancy.
You can strengthen your baby’s immune system and strive to prevent illness in five simple ways this season.
1. Wash Hands
Maintaining healthy hygiene practices, like hand washing, is an easy, accessible, and effective way to prevent illness in your home. Washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after an outing, before eating or feeding your baby, after using the bathroom, and whenever hands are visibly dirty can help prevent the spread of illness and keep your baby healthy.
2. Host Healthy Visitors
Welcoming a new baby into your family is exciting! And naturally, you want everyone you love to meet them! However, during the first year of your baby’s life, especially during cold and flu season, it's essential to be mindful of the health of your visitors. Friends and family are usually receptive to the desire to keep your baby healthy and safe, so let all your potential visitors know they're welcome to visit only when they're healthy. If they want to visit but exhibit symptoms of any kind, it's fully acceptable (and healthy!) to postpone the visit until they're symptom-free from recent illnesses.
When cleared visitors arrive (children or adults), you should ask them to wash their hands with soap and warm water before touching or holding your baby. It's worth reminding visitors that they are welcome to hold and snuggle your baby but to avoid kissing your baby’s face and hands to reduce exposure to viral infection.
3. Offer Breastmilk
Mom, by focusing on having a healthy and nourished body, you've been caring for your baby prior to your baby’s conception. While pregnant, your breasts are prepared to produce the perfect nutritional support, immune boosting, and gut health-supportive nourishment your baby could access. Your breastmilk, which changes composition in response to the bacteria present in your baby’s saliva while nursing, fulfills your baby’s nutritional needs and bonding desires while enhancing their immune system and gut health.
4. Humidify Your Home
When the air becomes dry, nasal passages can become irritated. A humidifier will help moisturize and soothe irritated nasal passages, keeping mucus from drying up inside your baby’s nose and improving sleep quality. Choose a quality option like the Crane Personal Cool Mist Humidifier, which runs for up to 12 hours and humidifies rooms up to 160 square feet.
When using a humidifier, set up your cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom near your baby’s crib but out of your baby’s reach. Clean and dry the humidifier frequently to keep bacteria and mold from growing. You want clean, cool-mist air supporting your baby’s respiratory system.
5. Keep Your Baby Comfortable in Layers
Even though it's colder outside in the winter, you'll still want to leave the house and ensure you and your baby get fresh air and sunshine daily. Dressing your baby for the season can be challenging, but layering your baby’s clothing can make it manageable.
When venturing the outdoors, it's important to know that babies lose the most heat through their heads and faces. Keeping their heads covered while outdoors will help keep them warm and comfortable. Layering pants and shirts with a blanket or other easily removable warm layers will allow you to move smoothly between the indoors and the outdoors with your baby. If you're moving between indoors and outdoors frequently, remove your baby’s hat, gloves, and booties while indoors so your baby doesn't overheat. Make sure to replace those items when returning outdoors.
Even when you're staying inside with your baby, it's important that they stay comfortable. If you tend to wear a couple of thin layers and warm socks, your baby will likely appreciate a similar outfit. When sleeping, consider what pajamas you wear and how many blankets you use. This information can inform you on how to dress your baby for sleep by telling you the thickness of pajamas, swaddles, or sleep sacks needed to keep your baby comfortable without overheating.
Remember, babies shouldn't sleep with loose bedding, hats, or other loose items in their crib.
Preparing for Illness
While you can't prepare for every aspect of potential illness, you can have a few items on hand to reduce stress and increase confidence when monitoring and managing your baby’s symptoms.
Nasal Aspirator and Saline Drops
The immune system increases mucus production to defend the body against pathogens. Mucus acts as a barrier seeking to prevent further infection in the body, so increased mucus production is a sign of a hard-working immune system! However, this can make breathing harder for your baby, especially if the mucus is drying up or if your baby cannot clear excessive mucus effectively.
When excessive mucus cannot be cleared or is interfering with sleep quality, you may choose to help your baby with saline drops and a nasal aspirator. Saline loosens up any dried mucus in your baby’s nasal passages and makes using a nasal aspirator more comfortable and effective as you physically remove excess mucus.
The immune system fights illness by temporarily increasing body temperature. This also increases the performance of immune cells and causes stress on pathogens to fight infection. While running a fever means the immune system is hard at work for babies and adults, a fever is always a symptom to monitor and seek medical attention when appropriate.
Having a reliable and easy-to-use thermometer on hand can help you monitor and track your baby’s body temperature.
You call the doctor about your baby’s fever if:
- Your baby is younger than six weeks old and presents with a fever.
- Your baby is younger than 12 weeks and presents with a temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher.
- Your baby is older than 12 weeks and presents with a temperature of 104°F.
You know your baby best, so fever alone will not be the primary cause for concern. If your baby has concerning symptoms of any kind, calling for a second opinion or nurse support to ensure proper care for your baby and peace of mind for you is worth it.
Pediatrician’s Phone Number and After-Hours Line
Speaking of ensuring proper care for your baby and peace of mind for yourself, having your baby’s pediatrician’s office and after-hours phone number(s) in your contacts and accessible to any other caregivers will allow you to access a second opinion or nurse support instantly.
Trusting your instincts as you monitor your baby’s early signs and symptoms is most important. Monitoring your baby’s signs and symptoms will be the best indicator of whether your baby is improving or worsening and what intervention might be valuable to support your baby’s wellness.
Cold and flu season during your baby's first winter can be daunting. With illness prevention and preparation underway, you can ease into winter confidently and enjoy these months of baby bliss. The PishPosh Baby team is here to help with your winter baby care. Reach out for product recommendations based on your family’s specific needs.