Baby & Toddler · Tips and Tricks

Coping with a sick baby

It’s that time of year again: germs are circulating, snot is flowing, and everywhere you look it seems like someone has an ear infection, croup, or the stomach flu (or all three)! And it’s no wonder, given how cooped up we’ve all been this year. Our house has caught more than a few bugs during this unusually cold and snowy winter, but by far the weirdest illness we’ve experienced to date is what Georgia came down with last week…scarlet fever

Total lethargy: a sure sign of a sick baby

Did mentioning that make anyone else think of The Velveteen Rabbit? Just like in that book, G woke up from her nap one day with a really hot fever and a bright, splotchy body-wide rash. She was actually at day care, so they understandably made us come get her right away, because it was hard to tell what was going on. Though it sounds scary (note to self: next time lie to grandparents) we learned that it’s no longer a serious disease because of the availability of antibiotics. And, it’s caused by the same bacteria as strep throat, so coming into contact with someone who had that (maybe on the plane?) is probably where she picked it up. The poor thing.


So, a few hundred hours of sleep and several key oatmeal baths later, she is feeling a million times better, and we are infinitely more thankful for good health, even when she wakes up at 3 a.m. for no reason or throws a tantrum while getting dressed. (Which P.S., we are living in tantrum hell right now! Did anyone else out there go through this around 18 months? And P.P.S., all these germs and tantrums are what’s been keeping me from the blog all week. I’ve missed you! )

It’s no secret that having a sick kid sucks, for you almost as much as them. Their sleep is disrupted, they go through ten times as many clothes in a day as normal, they whimper and cry and you just can’t fix it…it’s the pits. And that’s not even including the hours you spend waiting at the doctor and pharmacy, or cleaning up once it’s all over with. So what are the key things we’ve found that help relieve stuffed noses, upset tummies and feverish foreheads?

To Relieve Sniffles

  • Elevate the crib mattress. Just like adults stacking pillows, this really helps when they are congested and coughing or struggling with thick post-nasal drip. Just tuck a rolled-up blanket between the springs and the mattress; never elevate the whole crib. At day care, they let the stuffed-up babies sleep nestled in a boppy on their backs, but that’s because someone is always watching them. You could do this at home if you plan to be in the same room the whole time.
  • Stock up on baby saline mist and use it with the NoseFrida snot sucker, which is gross but works miraculously to clear gunk from teeny nostrils.
  • Wipe crusty noses with baby wipes, to prevent chapping. Lots of folks like Boogie Wipes for this purpose, but I see no reason to purchase an additional product when the ones you already have will work just as well!
  • Shower with them to de-congest them before bed or in the morning, or do a eucalyptus bubble bath.
  • Since you can’t use Vicks VapoRub on kids under two, the next best thing is something like the Honest Company’s organic breathe-easy rub, which I slather on Georgia’s neck, chest, behind her ears, and on the bottoms of her feet inside her footy PJs. It contains eucalyptus and tea tree oils with lavender and rosemary, and does not have menthol.
  • Run a cool mist humidifier in their room. We like this one by Holmes, available at Target and on Amazon. We used to have this popular Crane humidifier, but it broke within 6 months and we had to send in for a replacement, which took forever. The Holmes model is easy to fill with a water bottle with one hand and the light can be more easily covered up in a baby’s room,which is the one flaw in so many humidifiers we looked at! Georgia really sleeps better in a darker room, so this was important to us.
  • Zarbee’s natural syrup is great for babes over a year. They have options for other ages, too. That was what our pediatrician recommended when Georgia had a persistent cough earlier this fall.
  • If they will drink it, water with lemon and/or honey is also OK for babes over a year, just like it is for adults.
  • Give plenty of fluid if they want it, including more milk, formula or electrolyte solution if they seem extra thirsty. Don’t push food; their appetite will come back when they’re better.
  • Just like us, eating healthier foods (Georgia likes fresh berries cold from the fridge) can help speed along recovery.

For Reducing Fevers

Note: newborns need to see the doctor immediately for any type of fever. The following tips are for infants and older.

  • Dress your baby in whatever they find most comfy and cozy. G likes her footed fleece PJs when sick and I don’t see any reason not to let her stay in them. Don’t follow the old advice to bundle a baby with a temperature in the hopes of “breaking” it. Outdated info!
  • Use a no-touch thermometer to check their temperature while they’re sleeping. It won’t wake them, and it can remember the past few temps you’ve taken, in case you need to give your doctor a history when you visit.
  • Offer baby tylenol or ibuprofen. Georgia, we learned the hard way, reacts badly to ibuprofen. So we stick to tylenol, even though it only lasts 4 hours instead of 6, and (I’m told) isn’t as effective on lowering fevers. We actually buy the Target brand because it’s much cheaper and G actually prefers the dye-free grape flavor it comes in. Get the correct dose from your pediatrician, not from the box.
  • For a fever over 104, call your doc or head to the ER right away. Read more info here.

For an upset tummy

  • Liberally use Pedialyte, either the traditional variety, these more natural versions, or the fun freezer pop kind, which are messy but may be better received, and can be awesome in the hot summer. Georgia had the stomach bug so bad right after her first birthday that she couldn’t even keep down milk or formula, so we had to give her straight Pedialyte for almost three days, then build her back up to regular bottles over the course of a week by mixing in 1 oz. of milk at a time until there was no more Pedialyte. By the way, you can also make your own electrolyte solution.
  • Wait a good half day since their last time throwing up before you even offer bland food. Start with something simple like oatmeal, a banana or toast, or of course breastmilk/formula if that’s all they are eating depending on age.
  • Keep a good stain remover handy for pre-treating bedding, clothes and rugs, and try to stay ahead of the laundry when they zonk out so that you don’t run out of clean sheets or sleepwear. And whatever you do, don’t let them get into bed with you, even if you occasionally co-sleep as we do, or you WILL end up with no clean bed for anyone to rest in!!

For ALL Types of Illness

  • Have lots of fresh sheets, pajamas and clothes on hand & already washed. I recommend owning three crib sheets and at least four seats of pajamas in the right size. A baby with the flu could require three or more changes per night if they toss their cookies, cough until they vomit, or have a runny enough nose that it gets an entire end of the crib messy. Easier said than done, right? The baby getting sick is a guaranteed way to put my laundry timeline into a tailspin for weeks.
  • Offer lots of extra cuddles and as many naps as they want! When Georgia has been sick, I’ve known her to sleep in until 10 then take her usual nap at 1 and stay down until 4, then go right to bed for the night at 7. Just like us, they may need to literally sleep the day away in order to recuperate.
  • Little babies may want to nurse overtime for comfort, and you should let them. G got her first bad cold a few weeks after I had weaned her, and I nursed her again because she needed the comfort. It worked (and I still had milk, which was totally weird and cool).
  • Clean all the toys and play areas when everyone is well again. And don’t forget to buy a new toothbrush!
  • Don’t send them back to school before they are better, for their own good and for the health of all the other families. It just contributes to a cycle where everyone is sick all the time.
  • It shouldn’t have to be said, but everyone in the family needs to get a flu shot every year, including grandparents who babysit, and do your best to get all your child’s vaccines on time. We haven’t had much trouble with ear infections, but our doc always reminds us that a good preventative tip is to let baby drink their bottle/sippy only when upright, not lying down.
  • For the love of God, if you and your spouse are both sick at the same time, call in reinforcements. It will have to be a family member who really, really loves you, or someone who doesn’t care about the fact that they will probably come down with whatever gross illnesss you have, but what else are you going to do when both of you are vying for the bathroom and can’t stand up to do a diaper change without passing out? Not that I say this from experience.

So what did I miss? What works for you? Are there natural remedies out there I should know about? 

Cross your fingers for me that Georgia being sick so often in her early years means I’ll have an easier time of it come Kindergarten, when the babies who never went to day care or preschool tend to catch everything like we are now!

3 thoughts on “Coping with a sick baby

  1. I’m sorry you’re having all this sickness. I’m a great believer in using an antiseptic spray, like Lysol, on pillows, mattresses, sofa cushions, car seats, etc…anything that can’t be tossed in the washing machine. It kills germs and odors and helps prevent re-infection and spreading disease to everyone else. Also lots of fluids for everyone! Love, Aunt Liz


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