Illness in babies (shoot me now)
So there you are with a little bundle of joy in your arms wanting to wrap him/her in cotton wool, as your body technically did for nine months, and protect them from all the nasties in the world. Then your partner comes home from work with a sore throat. Uh-oh, cue a mega-meltdown with stocks of Milton antibacterial wipes and spray ordered from Amazon and every surface wiped before and after touching it (yes I really did this!).
Your partner is banished to the spare room and you resent them holding the baby in case they pass on their cold. Two days later and you hear a little sneeze and cue a steady stream of snot followed by a cough that takes weeks to shift. Your partner is blamed for eternity for the baby getting it’s first cold and the Mum guilt is a permanent presence in your life for at least two weeks.
Then winter sets in and/or your child reaches the six-month mark and you’re attending baby classes together. Get ready for he/she to be ill with something every other week. You shift one thing and the following day something else starts to appear. You’re told by well-wishers, "Oh it’s great as they’re building their immune system before starting school" and you want to shout at that person, because they are no doubt getting a good eight-hour unbroken stretch of sleep every night and are not at risk of a daily snail-trail of snot appearing on their clothes or having to deal with explosive diarrhoea. Tell these people to do one if the mood suits.
There are plenty of times when you will think, I wish I knew this in advance of having the baby so I could be better prepared for it, and illness is one of them. Illness has a knock-on effect on sleep, mood and appetite in your baby and so it’s a hugely testing time for the parents when a child gets ill.
My son Flynn caught a cold at 10 days old, which quickly escalated, and then he caught the Norovirus. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so worried and guilty in one go. My husband got a cold as I was in labour and it appeared OK to us adults, but once Flynn caught it and at such a young age, it was catastrophic (in our eyes).
The GP, of course, patted us on the arm and asked ‘Are you first-time parents?’ which is code for saying chill the f out and get on with it. Looking back, we really just wanted to know what we could do to ease the situation for our baby, as you can’t really give any medication to a child under three months old. Once they've reached the three-month mark, Calpol becomes your new best friend and then you have a eureka moment and discover Nurofen for babies and, even better, that you can take this and Calpol at the same time. Again, it's all about being informed and finding solutions from parents who have been here before and found things worked, or others that were an absolute waste of money.
Here are my tips for coping with illness in newborns through to 10 months old. Again, I welcome comments from Mums of toddlers and tips on coping with illness at this age:
· COLDS AND SNOT: As we all know, there's no cure for the common cold, so it's all about easing your baby's symptoms. I found the Calpol Vapour Plug and Nightlight really useful and also invested in a warm dehumidifier by Vicks, which is rather large, so you might be able to find something more compact (we bought ours in a snot-ridden panic). Snufflebabe vapour oil is something my pharmacist recommend, but it didn't seem to help Flynn; worth a try, though, as each baby is different. If you can hear a snotty nose and see bogies, then try the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator which works really well. If you want to save on money, my brother-in-law sucked the snot out of his newborn son’s nose with his mouth. Not for the fainthearted!
· COUGHS AND CHEST INFECTIONS: This is my worst nightmare, as a cough can linger for up to eight weeks according to my GP. This means interrupted sleep and having to get little one back off to sleep after a coughing fit, which typically rears its delightful head during the night. There is no medicine you can use to address a cough, apart from giving them something like Calcough Infant Syrup by Calpol. This isn’t medicated and really is just syrup, so babies love it. I did use it before bed and I think it helped with getting the coughing to stop, so that Flynn could drift off to sleep in the first instance.
We also found stacking books under one end of the cot worked to ease the cough and this helps with congestion, too. You can find stackers that do the same job, which look prettier and, of course, don’t risk you damaging books with the weight of the cot. We also invested in a cold humidifier and found this helped to really ease the coughing. It also doubles up as a nightlight and we still use it now. Finally, turn the heating down a bit, as heat makes a cough worse.
My final comment on coughs is to watch your child closely. Twice our son’s has developed into a chest infection and this is typically characterised by extended lethargy and appetite loss, a raised temperature and, sometimes, a bubbling sound on the child’s chest when a GP listens to their breathing. Do see your GP if you’re worried. We went to see our GP five times during a seven-week cough and then again when it appeared to come back. I’m not a fan of antibiotics, but in both instances they were needed and my son returned to his normal self within five days
· NAPPY RASH THAT LOOKS LETHAL: We have been lucky on this front until now, when Flynn decides to have a cheeky poo in the night. He doesn't wake up and so we have no idea this has happened until we open his nappy in the morning and are met with a red-raw bottom. For really bad nappy rash, we use Metanium cream, which you use sparingly and overnight you see a dramatic difference. Sudocrem works for mild nappy rash. We use Weleda Baby Calendula Cream barrier cream during every nappy change and we’re convinced that this has resulted in Flynn not having nappy rash until now.
· NOROVIRUS: I was convinced that Flynn might have had this on a couple of occasions when he vomited what looked like an entire feed followed by a squirty sounding and looking nappy. This was nothing compared to when he did actually get it and I thought he had become possessed by the Devil, a la The Exorcist. He projectile vomited his dinner within minutes and I’ve never seen range like it. Shortly after, the explosive out-of-the-side-of-the-nappy mucusy diarrhoea started and it didn’t stop. There is little you can do here other than to dress them in comfy clothes, change and clean them as soon as they pass a motion either end and just let them sleep as and when they want to. What is absolutely key here is dehydration and to monitor their liquid intake – plenty of milk and water.
After a week of diarrhoea, we took Flynn to the hospital and I gave him Diarolyte in a syringe over the course of an hour in small doses. He loved it because of the sweetness. Please speak to a GP before you give this to your child, as it isn’t given unless really necessary. Our major tell-tale sign of dehydration was a sunken fontanelle (the little squishy triangle on top of your child’s head) and major lethargy. We managed to dehydrate our son twice in the early days when breastfeeding was being established and when I think back, the signs became obvious very quickly – banshee-type screaming, dry nappies and the fact Flynn just wanted to sleep a lot, which we thought was solely down to the jaundice. Just be vigilant with your baby during the period of expulsion and offer liquid more than you normally would. And stock up on Vanish!
The above isn't an exhaustive list of illnesses you may encounter in the early days, but they are the ones that my husband and I encountered and found testing, as we lacked tips on what to try. Good luck and remember the saying 'This too shall pass' if your child is currently unwell. Sending hugs and kisses xx