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Your baby’s first year is full of milestones: his first smile, his first tooth … and your first frantic call to the pediatrician. There’s no way around it—sooner or later, your child is going to 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.
Here’s the good news: With each new illness, your baby builds antibodies that will protect him in the future. That’s small comfort at 2 a.m., of course, when your baby is feverish and fussy. So invest in a solid reference book, such as The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two, by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N. (Little Brown and Co., 1993). Also find a good pediatrician. Start interviewing in your second trimester, and make sure you find one who can handle your middle-of-the-night calls.
Need advice now? Here’s a guide to some of the most common infant ailments and what you can do to help your baby get through them.
Even though babies cry a lot, it’s not unusual for their tear ducts to become blocked. The result—eyes brimming with tears—can be alarming, but most clogged ducts clear up on their own. In the meantime, try gently massaging the tear duct or flushing the eye with breast milk. But do call your pediatrician if your baby’s eyes become reddened or a heavy discharge appears.
“A cold is primarily a nuisance,” Mahle says. The telltale sign is a runny nose with discharge that can range from clear and watery to thick and yellow to even greenish. Your baby also may be sneezing, coughing, slightly feverish and cranky.
Keep your baby comfortable by placing a humidifier in the nursery, leaving windows open whenever possible, increasing his fluids (breastfeeding is best, but if your baby’s getting a bottle, you can dilute one or two feedings a day with water) and using breast milk to soften the mucus in his nose and then suctioning it with a rubber bulb syringe. Another trick: Let the baby sleep secured in his car seat so that gravity can help drain his nose.
Note that many parents and day-care centers get the issue of contagion backwards: The thin, clear mucus from a runny nose at the beginning of a cold is the most contagious. The thick, green mucus that comes later, while less attractive, is actually not contagious.