Winter is the season of beautiful colours, crisp mornings, roast dinners and of course the most exciting point if you have children, Christmas. With it however also comes snotty noses, colds, infections and those dreaded tummy bugs! Resident expert Hannah Love, tells us how to cope with winter bugs.
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Unfortunately, especially if your baby or toddler is in childcare, these things are hard to avoid, and so are the sleepless nights that go hand in hand with any illness.
So how can we avoid the illness, what can you do to help your baby if they are poorly and how do you get back on track once they are better?
Hand washing: I really can’t put more emphasis on how important this is. Washing hands is vital every time they have anything to eat and when returning home. A hand gel (such as Bentley Organic Mother and Baby Hand Sanitizer) can be great when out and about.
Removing shoes in the house: Especially important when you have a crawler in the house but ideally with children of all ages. Germs from your shoes are spread all over the house when worn in the home.
Ensure the places you visit are clean: Biggest culprits are soft play centres, they are excellent but I’m sure some of you have visited the ones where the floors and equipment are dirty.
Fresh air: is great for the immune system! Even when its cold wrap up and go out for a walk or to the park.
Diet: A good diet with plenty of different colorful fruits and vegetables boosts the immune system. Tropical fruit is great for vitamin and mineral levels, as are berries, peppers and green leafy vegetables. Variety is the key.
Sugar puts a huge strain on the immune system and depletes vitamins and minerals in the digestion and elimination of it from the body. Be careful of hidden sugars in yoghurts, cereals, cereal bars, fruit juice snacks such as fruit bars and even raisins. Ideally the only sugar that your baby/toddler consumes on a daily basis should be that that cones from whole fruit.
Supplement key vitamins if you are worried that your baby/toddler isn’t taking enough through their diet or they could do with a boost. A good liquid multi (such as ABIDEC) could help. Vitamin D is advised for all babies/toddlers in the winter months especially.
Helping your poorly baby:
The first few times your baby is poorly it is heartbreaking, every parent wishes they could take the illness away and have it themselves. Babies go downhill very quickly but also tend to bounce back very quickly too.
Along side illness is usually sleep regression. Even the best of sleepers who are in a good routine and sleeping independently before illness hit often revert to screaming at nap time, needing lots of cuddles and being awake much of the night. This is even more apparent in babies that are poor sleepers. So how can you help your baby?
Colds/coughs and sniffles
Practical things that you can try are raising the head end of their cot by putting a pillow or blanket under the mattress- this can help with breathing and reducing mucus. Some babies find relief from steaming especially before bed or at nap times.
There are some great products on the market to help, as babies can’t blow their noses one of the most useful is a nasal sucker (Such as the Snufflebabe Nasal Aspirator). This is especially helpful to clear snot just before feeding. Saline drops or sprays can work brilliantly along side sucking to make the snot easier to remove. Vapour rubs or oils offer relief, especially overnight. Snufflebabe Nasal Drops are great as they can be used from birth, or even be added to their Inhaler Dummy.
Babies often get a temperature with even the slightest cold- this is perfectly normal in young babies especially and is due to their immature immune system. The temperature is there to kill the bugs that are causing the infection. Therefore falsely reducing them with Paracetamol is not advised unless your baby is ‘miserable’ with the temperature. Similarly it is very normal for babies with a slight cold to go off their milk and solid feeds- having a full tummy makes it even harder for them to breathe easily, offer small feeds more often until they are better.
Diarrhoea and Vomiting
This is most parents most dreaded illness, one member of the family catches it and the whole family is ill! Unfortunately there is little medically that can be done to stop the symptoms, it is a case of riding it out.
In children the main risk is dehydration, encouraging fluids is essential- plenty of water, watered down fruit juice, breast milk or formula. If weaned and its a severe bug I find stopping all solids for 12 hours to allow the tummy to rest can help. Babies and small children often eat in between bouts of sickness and this can lengthen the illness. If your baby shows signs of dehydration (less wet nappies, lethargic, sunken in soft spot on their head) then call 111.
If severely dehydrated your GP or 111 health professional will often advise Dioralyte rehydration salts, it may be worth keeping some in your medicine cabinet just incase. Coconut water is also great for hydrating even the youngest of weaned babies.
You are infectious for 48 hours after ALL symptoms stop, please avoid coming into contact with anyone in this time. Remember that even a mild tummy bug in you or your toddler could be much more serious in the elderly or small baby.
Illness and Sleep
Unfortunately completely avoiding sleep regressions with illness is virtually impossible. The most important thing to realize that, as long as your baby was self settling prior to the illness then they wont forget that skill, they may just need reminding that they can do it once they are feeling better!
In the mean time try and practice your baby going into their cot from awake and self settling at least once in 24 hours, try as much as possible to stick to your usual bed time routine and incorporate sleep triggers that you use even if they are needing to sleep next to you in the mist of illness. If you can keep them in their own bed (and you camp on their floor if you need to keep an eye on them) that is ideal as then they will remain used to their usual place of sleeping.
If your under 4 year old has a temperature its important not to do anything that may increase it further. Keep the room temperature on the lower side, dress in cool loose clothing and ideally don’t cuddle to sleep. If they wont sleep in their cot then try a pillow on your knee (while watching them) or lying next to you
Once the main symptoms have ceased, they are eating well and seem less clingy that’s usually a good indication that they are ‘better’. This could be a few days after the acute symptoms such as a temperature have subsided. Its important at this point to get back on track as soon as possible.
The starting point is getting back onto your old routine with meal and feed times, sleep and bed times. Once the routine is back into place then concentrate on getting back to self settling and them not needing you to go to sleep. This should be pretty simple if they were doing this prior to becoming poorly. Unfortunately in babies that have never learnt this skill each bout of illness can have a lasting, and accumulative effect on sleep- another great reason to teach this invaluable skill early ☺ I never advise controlled crying or cry it out, this is especially the case with babies that are not 100%.
Don’t panic! Especially the first few times your baby is poorly then it’ll seem like everything is going wrong and its never going to be resolved. I receive lots of calls from panicked parents who previously had a good sleeper, now they are poorly and they are up 15 times a night! I always ask them to get back in touch once the symptoms have subsided and they are eating normally again. When I follow up 10 days later the majority have fallen back into their old routine of good sleep. Those that haven’t it takes a couple of days (and a little advice!) to get back on track.
*Hannah Love is the owner of Yummy Baby Group. She specializes in teaching babies to sleep well in a kind and gentle way from birth. Her approach combines her experience and knowledge as a Children’s Nurse, Nanny, Nutritional Therapist, Maternity Nurse and Mummy of 2. Please visit her website www.yummybabygroup.co.uk for more details.
All information given is Hannah’s opinions and is meant to be taken as such. If you are every worried about your baby then please visit your GP or call 111.*