The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Sick baby requires extra care

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — My big kids have been coughing their way through a combination of allergies and colds for the past 10 days, which is exactly as fun as it sounds. But at least we can treat the discomforts of both.

It's harder, though, when the suffering little one is an infant. Most medicines aren't approved for use in kids under 2 years old, and even if they were, it's hard to be sure exactly what their issues are if they can't yet speak for themselves.

So we have to guess.

But there are some ways we can help our babies get through their colds and seasonal irritations without the use of the forbidden medicines.

First, it's been preached so often that we tend to disregard its importance, but fluids are imperative in getting through an illness with a minimum of discomfort.

If your infant is old enough to drink from a sippy cup, encourage as much water as possible. Nurse on demand through sicknesses, and maybe even loosen your restrictions on juice consumption. The more fluids there are in a body, the easier it is for the body to get a cough out, drain mucus and help cells fight germs.

When you've exhausted your supply of internal hydrating methods, don't forget about external hydration. Use a humidifier in the baby's bedroom to help him breathe easier and more comfortably. Keep a pot of water on a low boil on the stovetop throughout the day. Turn on a hot shower and take your croupy infant into the steamy bathroom for some relief.

Instead of medicinal decongestants, which you might be willing to trade for your soul, your best friend is the bulb syringe. Find the smallest syringe possible with a soft, flexible tip.

It might take practice and a few extra hands to hold the baby still, but the more mucus you can steal from that tiny nose, the sooner you'll all be more comfortable.

In order to make the bulb syringe work better, fill a medicine dropper with a bit of saline solution -- dissolve 1/4 teaspoon non-iodized salt in 1 cup warm water -- and place a few drops of liquid in each nostril. This will work best if your baby or toddler is lying down, so the solution can loosen mucus and soothe a sore, draining throat.

For a nagging cough, we've also used herbal chest rubs that don't have the same harsh menthols in traditional, adult versions. These rubs are widely available and include sinus-opening herb extracts and oils.

I wish I could promise absolute effectiveness, but whether they make a difference is hard to gauge. What I can vouch for is the fact that they helped us feel slightly less helpless as parents, which is all I ever really hope for, both in sickness and in health.

Any proposed solution to help the baby, and therefore, the parents, rest more comfortably through nights of congestion and coughing is worth some experimentation.

Never forget that experiments sometimes lead to extraordinary breakthroughs. And I call "uninterrupted sleep" the worthiest breakthrough of all.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.