Taking care of a baby with a cold is difficult since they don’t feel well and have trouble breathing through a stuffy nose. A stuffy nose also can make breastfeeding difficult. Parents may wonder if they should continue breastfeeding while their baby is sick. To help combat cold symptoms and continue to give breastmilk to your baby, here are some tips on what parents can do to help their little one feel better.
Should I keep breastfeeding? Breastfed babies receive considerable protection from illnesses from their mother’s milk. Breastmilk adapts to the mom’s surroundings by producing more disease-fighting substances like antibodies to prevent and fight illnesses. Since the mom is exposed to the baby’s cold, she will make antibodies for her baby to help fight off the cold and pass them to her baby through her milk. Breastfeeding is one of the best things a mother can do when her baby is ill. Plus babies who are ill need to keep up their intake of fluids. Frequent breastfeeding is a great way for moms to comfort their babies and keep them hydrated. Breastfeeding also comforts and soothes a sick baby.
My baby’s nose is too stuffy for breastfeeding. What can I do? Sometimes babies have trouble or refuse to nurse because their nose is too stuffy. There are a few ways moms can help unstuff baby’s nose.
Keep baby as upright as possible while nursing. Use pillows to help prop up yourself and your arms to keep baby upright. It may help to have mom and baby tummy-to-tummy with mom semi-reclined.
Use saline drops and a rubber bulb to help clear baby’s nose. Put 2-3 drops of saline in the baby’s nose and wait 1-2 minutes. Squeeze the bulb, gently put the tip in the nostril opening, and release slowly. You may have to do this several times a day. Be sure to do this before nursing, as the suction bulb might cause a baby who has just nursed to spit up. If the baby doesn’t tolerate the rubber bulb, just use the saline drops, as that alone will still help unstuff baby’s nose.
Use a vaporizer or humidifier in the room that the baby is in. It’s more effective in a small closed room to keep the moisture in. This could be the room the baby sleeps and plays in.
To relieve congestion, try boiling a pot of water, remove from the stove, and add a few drops of essential oil such as eucalyptus, sage, or balsam and let the steam and scent fill the room. Be sure not to apply any peppermint oil, camphor, or menthol on the baby’s face or chest as these product can cause breathing difficulty or reactions in infants.
Try nursing in a steamy bathroom. Set up a chair in the bathroom and fill the bathroom with steam from a really hot shower.
What if my baby refuses to nurse? If your baby refuses to nurse, keep trying by offering the breast often. Try once an hour. You can try various positions to see which makes your baby most comfortable. Your baby will return to nursing as they get better. In the meantime, you can help keep your baby hydrated by giving them expressed milk from a cup or dropper. You can also freeze your milk into popsicles and let your baby suck on those. Or freeze your milk until it is slushy and have your baby eat it with a spoon. For older babies who are eating solids, you can add and mix breastmilk into their solids
What about children’s cold medicines? The US Food and Drug Administration recommends against giving over-the-counter cold medicines to children under the age of 2 as they have not shown to be effective and can have life-threatening side effects.
When should I take my baby to see a doctor? The following is the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics on when you should take your baby to see the doctor
If the baby is three months or younger, call the pediatrician at the first sign of illness. Symptoms can be misleading with a young baby and a cold can develop into complications.
For a baby older than three months, call the pediatrician if you see the following symptoms:
The nostrils are widening with each breath, the skin above or below the ribs sucks in with each breath (retractions), or your child is breathing rapidly or having any difficulty breathing.
The lips or nails turn blue.
Nasal mucus persists for longer than ten to fourteen days.
The cough just won’t go away (it lasts more than one week).
She has pain in her ear.
Her temperature is over 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius).
She is excessively sleepy or cranky.
Don’t forget to encourage family and friends to wash their hands and to cover their sneezes and coughs, especially around the baby. If you would like more help in breastfeeding a sick baby, schedule an online appointment at our Healthy Horizons Online Scheduling Page.
“Children and Colds.” HealthyChildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Children-and-Colds.aspx.