Everything Parents Should Know When Their Baby Has the Flu
Surviving Flu Season With Your Baby
Parents spend countless hours worrying about their healthy babies, so we understand how scary it is when their baby has the flu. Fear not, we have you covered. Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions about the baby flu, with expert tips and advice to get you through this flu season.
What Is the Flu?
The flu—short for influenza—is caused by the influenza virus. There are three types of influenza virus (A, B and C) but only A and B are worrisome. Type C does not produce life-threatening symptoms, does not cause epidemics, and almost never results in complications that cause a fatality.
After the virus enters the body, it spends a few days replicating inside of the respiratory system. The virus binds to cells within the respiratory system and releases its genetic information into the cell where it replicates. Eventually, the cell dies and releases the copies. Those copied viruses find other cells to bind with and the cycle starts again. The replication process may last for several days and during this time you may notice respiratory irritation, but the more serious symptoms present themselves after the virus enters the bloodstream.
Is the Flu Dangerous to Babies?
Perhaps the biggest question parents typically ask when their children get ill is if the condition is fatal. Can the flu be life-threatening to babies? According to the CDC, millions of children become sick with the flu each year, thousands of those same children end up in the hospital and some cases do end in fatality resulting from the influenza virus.
Influenza naturally affects everyone differently, but children under five are more likely to develop critical problems due to the flu. The younger the child is, the higher that potential risk becomes.
Babies Under Six Months During Flu Season
Babies under six months old cannot be vaccinated against the flu. This makes it hard for their tiny bodies to fight off the infectious virus. If your child is under six months old during a flu season, it’s a good idea to keep them as isolated as possible. Some good things to do include:
- Ask family and friends not to visit if they exhibit any sign of illness
- Keep contact with school-age children to a minimum
- Don’t be afraid to urge people to wash their hands or wear a face mask while visiting
- Ask someone to assist you with errands
- If you must go into public, ask someone to babysit
- If you must take your child in public, cover their car seat or stroller with a blanket
- Wash your hands before touching your baby or their things
- Carry hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes with you when you go into public
- Don’t allow inquisitive strangers to touch your child or get too close
- Disinfect anything your baby touches or puts in their mouth after each use
It’s not always a good idea to shield your child from all germs since some exposure can help them develop lifelong immunity's. However, during flu season it’s better to be cautious, and this is particularly true when they have not received a flu vaccination.
Does My Baby Have the Flu?
Signs and Symptoms of the Baby Flu
Babies cannot express when they don’t feel good and are unable to tell us where it hurts. Parents need to know the signs and symptoms of the flu, so they can identify when their infant is sick. The symptoms listed below are the most common signs of the flu. If your baby exhibits any of the symptoms listed below, take them to the doctor right away.
- Throwing up
- A runny nose
- Fever over 100 degrees (a fever alone is not always a sign of illness)
- Sleeping a lot more than normal
- Diarrhea or loose stools
- Loss of appetite
Should I Take My Baby To the Hospital?
If they exhibit any of these symptoms, take them to the emergency room:
- Turning blue
- Bluish lips
- Trouble breathing
- Inability to keep fluids down or not interested in drinking fluids
- Rash accompanied by a fever
- Constant vomiting (fear of dehydration)
- Less frequent dirty diapers (if they are not peeing, they may not be getting enough fluids)
- Unstoppable crying
- Sharp, high-pitched screaming
- Unable to wake up or respond to you
- Not producing tears when they cry
- Blood in their vomit or stool
- Sunken eyes
- Their nail-beds have a bluish tint
Breastfeeding With the Flu
Will Breastfeeding While I Have the Flu Make My Baby Sick?
No. A mother who takes the correct precautions cannot pass the flu to her baby by breastfeeding. However, she does run the risk of passing it along by being in close contact with her child.
Can I Breastfeed My Baby If I Have the Flu?
Yes. The influenza virus is not passed along through breast milk. However, should be cautious while handling your child while you have the flu.
- Wash your hands before feeding your child
- Do not cough or sneeze near your baby
- Wear a mask if possible
- Do not kiss your child near their mouth
Can I Get the Flu Shot While Breastfeeding?
Yes. The antibodies found in the flu shot can be passed along to your child through your breastmilk and help them build immunities. It is safe for a breastfeeding woman to get the flu shot.
Does My Baby Have a Stuffy Nose?
Most infants sound like they have a stuffy nose even when they are in perfect health. Several things might cause this. Reflux is a common ailment among newborns and can irritate their throat causing mild inflammation. It’s also possible they still have amniotic fluid in their respiratory system that has yet to be expelled.
As a general rule, if a child sounds stuffy but does not display other symptoms of illness, they are likely fine. If their stuffy nose is accompanied by other symptoms or they have a runny nose, they most likely have a virus.
Many pediatricians advise parents not to take action against a stuffy nose. However, since babies cannot breathe through their mouth for the first months of their life, it’s crucial you watch carefully to make sure the congestion does not inhibit their breathing.
How to Help Your Baby With a Stuffy Nose
When we watch our children struggling with congestion, our first instinct is to help them. Unfortunately, when babies are too young to take OTC decongestant, parents are left with limited options.
Luckily, there are ways you can help your baby with their stuffy nose that don't involve medication:
- Run a hot shower and sit in the bathroom with your baby while cradling them upright on your lap. The steam should clear their sinuses.
- Put a vaporizer in the room where your baby sleeps.
- Include a modest amount of Vicks to the running shower or vaporizer. Make sure not to overdo it—a little goes a long way.
- Use a bulb syringe to suction mucus from your infant’s nose when necessary.
- Follow the directions that come with the device to ensure you don’t unintentionally harm your baby.
- Some have claimed this natural remedy works well—slightly pinch the bridge of the infant’s nose and bounce them lightly on your lap. Do not try this or stop immediately if your child is struggling to breathe.
- Elevate the upper portion of your baby’s mattress.
- Rosemary, mint, eucalyptus and onions are all scents that can be used in aromatherapy and supposedly help congestion when inhaled or used in a diffuser.
- Hot packs, when applied to the sinuses, can be used to relieve congestion. Just make sure it's not hot enough to burn your child or cause them discomfort.
- For more severe chest congestion, lay your infant on your lap and gently pat their back. The action should help loosen mucus in their lungs.
My daughter was born right before flu season so we spent quite a lot of time worrying about her being sick as a newborn. This nasal aspirator was amazing and since you control the suction, it's comfortable for the baby. My daughter was more willing to allow us to use this then the bulb syring we got at the hospital.
How Long Will My Baby's Flu Last?
Many things happen after a child comes into contact with the influenza virus. Once it enters the body, the virus spends 1-4 days replicating in the respiratory system before entering the bloodstream. Ordinarily, children will not exhibit the worst of the symptoms until after the reproduction phase, but the symptoms they do have will be like those of the common cold. Coughing, sore throat and congestion are all common ailments during the first couple of days.
Once the more severe symptoms present themselves, it can take up to two weeks before children feel livelier. Some may heal sooner while others find their flu lingers longer.
Baby Flu Treatment
A doctor may prescribe an anti-viral medication to prevent the virus from turning into a more severe problem like phenomena. Otherwise, treatment for the flu should be specific to the present symptoms. Some key point to remember when treating the flu:
- Keeping your child hydrated is critical—especially if they are vomiting or have diarrhea. Offer fluids constantly throughout the day and visit your doctor if you believe your baby’s not receiving enough fluids. Try giving your baby smaller amounts of formula or breast-milk more often throughout the day.
- Talk to your pediatrician or pharmacist about medication for the aches and pains. They may recommend infants Tylenol, but it’s always better to ask before administering any medication to a child under two years of age. Avoid ibuprofen when a baby is under 6 months. Never give aspirin to a baby.
- Keep your child away from second-hand smoke or other irritating chemicals. This is true anytime, but especially true while they are battling a respiratory infection.
- Warm baths could clear their sinuses and alleviate muscle pain.
- Dress your baby in light clothing
- Keep the room they are in cool (not freezing but not overly warm). Heat could make their symptoms worse.
- Influenza (flu) and Your Baby | March of Dimes
- Influenza (Flu) | Breastfeeding | CDC
CDC Guidance on Influenza and Infant Feeding
- Children & Influenza (Flu) | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC
Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine - CDC
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