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Your baby’s first year is full of milestones: The first smile, the first tooth, the first frantic call to your pediatrician. There’s no way around it — sooner or later, your infant will get sick. “The average infant gets six to eight colds each year for the first two or three years,” says Sue Mahle, M.D., a pediatrician in Minneapolis.
But the good news is that with each illness, your baby builds antibodies. That’s small comfort at 2 a.m., of course, when your baby is feverish and fussy. So invest in a solid baby reference book (for some ideas, see Sights & Sounds) and find a good pediatrician (experts say to start interviewing in your second trimester). Make sure you find one who can handle your middle-of-the-night calls.
Here’s a guide to some of the most common infant ailments you may encounter, what you can do to help and how to get through them.
This yellowish skin color is caused by an excess of a chemical called bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is normally processed by the liver, but immature livers of newborn babies can fall behind in this task. About 15 percent to 20 percent of newborns develop jaundice by their third day. Jaundice usually disappears within a week to 10 days.
If you suspect that your baby has the condition, you should contact your health care provider. Treatment involves placing the baby under an ultraviolet light (available for home use) and giving her extra fluids. You also can try shading her eyes and placing her next to a window in the sunlight for several minutes a few times a day. A quick trip outside is good, too, but be careful about sunburn.
Clogged Tear Ducts
Although crying is what babies do best, it’s not unusual for infants’ tear ducts to become blocked. The result — eyes brimming with tears — can be alarming for a parent to see, but most clogged ducts clear up on their own. (Call your doctor if your baby’s eyes become reddened or a heavy discharge appears.) Try gently massaging the duct by applying pressure near the corner of the eye.
“A cold is primarily a nuisance,” Mahle says. The telltale sign is a runny nose, with discharge that can be clear and watery or thick and yellowish or greenish. Your baby also may be sneezing, coughing, feverish and cranky.
You can keep the baby comfortable by placing a humidifier in the nursery, increasing his fluids (breastfeeding is best, but if your baby’s getting a bottle, you can dilute one or two feedings a day with sterile water) and using saltwater drops to soften the mucus in his nose and then suctioning it with a rubber bulb syringe. You also can let baby sleep secured in his car or infant seat so gravity can help drain the nose.
“If mucus is thick and green, it’s more likely that there’s something bacterial going on,” says Marc Wager, M.D., a pediatrician in private practice in New Rochelle, N.Y. “An infant with a clear, runny nose and no fever can be treated at home, but if fever is present, or fever with green [mucus], a visit to your pediatrician may be indicated.”