It’s mid-November and my nine-month-old has his first case of the sniffles. I know a runny nose is nothing to worry about, but I hate seeing my little one struggling to breathe (especially at night). I’ve done everything the books recommend – putting a humidifier in the bedroom, using saline spray and an aspirator, elevating the head of his crib, encouraging lots of rest and fluids, etc. – so now we just have to tough it out. But I feel so helpless! At least I want to do what I can to help my son stay healthy once he recovers.
It turns out, all the things my mother told me are still the best prevention techniques (I’ve grown up to discover Mom was right about most things!): wash your hands often, don’t touch your eyes/nose/mouth, stay away from sick people, sneeze into tissues instead of your hands, wipe down household surfaces with a disinfectant, and get plenty of sleep.
Unfortunately, while these are excellent recommendations for staying healthy in winter, they are not easy to implement with a baby. My son does not yet understand the concept of washing his hands; whenever I dangle him near running water, he is likely to lunge for it, soaking us both. And only a three-armed woman could get soap onto and washed off of a squirmy baby’s hands. Telling my son not to touch his eyes, nose, or mouth is like instructing an oak tree not to drop it leaves in autumn. Every baby I’ve ever known has her fingers on her face much of the time, and often in someone else’s eyes, nose, and/or mouth.
It’s one thing to cancel a play date because someone is feeling ill, but since cold and flu bugs can be transmitted before the carrier shows any symptoms, “staying away from sick people” could be a complete prohibition on socialization for cold-prone babies. Plus, I have no choice but to bring my son to the grocery store, on the subway, on airplanes, and to church. Even keeping my baby home all winter would not protect him; he caught this current bout of the sniffles from his dad, and there’s no way I can prevent him from going out!
Can any other parent of a baby under the age of one get their child to sneeze into a tissue? Even if you could tell when a sneeze was coming (my son gives no warning), the tissue is more likely to be torn apart and/or stuffed into his mouth than used to catch his sneeze. And baby sneezes tend to go everywhere. So even if I were to constantly wipe down our counters, high chairs, door nobs, and other surfaces, they would be re-infected with every “ah-choo.” Moreover, my son puts everything into his mouth, and I think I’d rather him suck on some germs than disinfecting chemicals.
I know that sleep is the single best thing for preventing and recovering from illness, but getting a sick baby to sleep is exhausting, and sometimes impossible. Between the stuffy nose, body aches, fever, surprising sneezes, and everything else, nap-time/nighttime often involves more whining than resting.
So what’s a mom to do? I guess I need to come to terms with the simple truth that more than one billion colds strike Americans a year, and a few of them are bound to infect my baby. I do not want him to miss out on parties and playgrounds just to avoid sick kids, and I cannot wash his hands and wipe his toys every time there’s a risk of germs. Plus, each cold that a child fights makes him or her stronger, and better able to fight off the next illness, so there’s a bit of a silver lining.
Does anyone else have advice for navigating cold and flu season with a baby? What about with a husband who transforms into a baby when he gets sick?