Congratulations, you're having a baby! Now, it is your duty as parents to protect them, AND keep them happy, healthy and safe. This realization is a doozy, and as you soon will find out, no matter how cautious you are, childhood illnesses and seasonal illnesses such as flu just happen. Be mentally prepared at least for this emotional ride we call parenthood.
There are a handful of fairly common childhood illnesses that are straight up horrifying to first-time parents. Common or not, some can be serious. Here's my disclaimer: I am no pediatrician. I leave the medical advice to the ones who spent years in medical school! But I am a mom to three bug magnets who have landed themselves in the ER more times than I can count on two hands. So, while I'm not a medical professional, I am a sick kid survivor which totally counts for something.
Ear infections — Hi, my name is Tara, and my first two children combined had 14 (FOURTEEN!!!) ear infections over a three-year period, which has resulted in MANY sleepless nights, I don't know how many rounds of antibiotics, ear drops and finally, ear tubes for both of them. But ... ear tubes you say?! Isn't that a surgery? Yes, and while the thought of your little angel going under to have surgery on her ears is scary to think about, you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that it is literally a two-minute procedure, and after you relinquish your child you will have barely have a moment to fill up your coffee cup in the waiting room before they are calling you back to recovery. It's that quick. I would also like to take this moment to publicly thank the physician who discovered ear tubes. May you and your entire bloodline be forever blessed in every possible way.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — Another common sickness parents may face with newborns and toddlers is RSV; a nasty, nasty cold virus that is more common in preemies, but RSV doesn't want anyone to miss out, so any kid can get it. Even adults get it, but in adults, it's just a minor cold. RSV is like a monster-sized cold when little kiddos get it, with high fevers, mucus, and breathing issues. It's that last one (breathing issues) that gets me every time. Thankfully, there is a nose swab they can do at the doctor's office to test your angel for RSV. It's one of those illnesses that could get you a couple night's stay in the hospital if your child's oxygen saturations are on the low side. Because it's a virus, there isn't much that can be done to speed up the process of her getting better, but if her oxygen levels are in question, they may want to monitor that and give supplemental oxygen. Another thing that may become a permanent household fixture is a nebulizer, which allows you to do breathing treatments at home.
Breathing issues — Just writing these out seriously made me sick to my stomach. But; this is important. Things to look for that could mean your baby is having difficulty breathing are rapid shallow breathing, abdominal breathing (tummy pushing out when breathing), chest "caving in" when breathing, and grunting at the beginning of each breath. Now, just something to throw you through a loop, newborn babies make ALL KINDS of weird noises when they are sleeping, breathing, just being ... but if you are ever concerned ALWAYS call your pediatrician. Go with that mama gut, girlfriend.
Rotavirus — This is one of many stomach bugs that spreads like wildfire through daycares, schools and families. Sharing is caring!! Some tips with the stomach bugs:
- Always have PediaSure® on hand to keep those kiddos hydrated. You never know when you are going to need it, and you never know how much you will need.
- Diaper rash cream. If your kiddo is coming down with an illness that involves several dirty diapers, may the force be with you, and be proactive with the diaper rash cream. Start putting it on their little tushies before they even get a chance to get all red and irritated.
- Stick with the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) — foods that won't irritate an already woozy tummy.
- Stay strong. This is a tough one, but it too shall pass.
If a tummy bug hits your house, it's time to start counting wet diapers again (YAY reminds me of those first days home from the hospital with your newborn baby where you need to keep track of their wet and dirty diapers!) The magic number is 6 wet diapers a day. If it's less than that, time to call the doctor.
Recurrent strep throat — For this one, I'm handing the mic to my friend Suzanne whose child has had strep a total of 18,000 times. (I'm just kidding, but you can bet your bottom dollar that's how she feels on the matter.)
Things that can land your kid in the hospital (i.e. "Pack your bags and bust out the hospital food menu, you're going to stay with us for a day or two"):
High fever — I am a high fever expert, and I don't say that proudly! My kids pride themselves in soaring high with their fevers. Talk to your pediatrician about when to call because of a fever. I personally wait to call the pediatrician until my kiddo has a persistent fever (for more than a day) of over 101.5°F. I freely medicate my kiddos with Motrin® (using the appropriate dosage for their weight) to keep them comfortable. Use your discretion and listen to what your doctor recommends. Some other high fever tips:
- Put your kiddo in light clothing. You can save the thermal footed pajamas for another night.
- Don't give him a ton of milk or dairy. You may be seeing that curdled milk later.
- Know your child's weight! I know this is maybe a no-brainer, but when my baby was a baby, and I was up at 3 am dealing with a feverish kid, I wasn't thinking straight when I was looking at those doses on the bottle. Plus, babies grow a TON in their first year! They could be 10, 20, or even 25 lbs. All of those weights require very different dosages of medicine,so be super mindful!
Hand, foot and mouth disease — This little bugger shows up OUT OF NOWHERE and is extremely contagious. Hooray! Some of the things that presented in my child were a super high fever and small pinpoint spots on her hands and feet, ending with blisters everywhere. Somewhat horrifying. The good (and bad) news (depending on how you look at it) is that this disease is a virus, so there isn't really anything you can give your child to make it go away, and because it is super contagious, plan on keeping your kiddo on lockdown to avoid spreading the disease. And to add insult to injury, there's a chance the virus is already shedding off your kiddo before he even shows any symptoms. If your kiddo comes down with this, keep him away from other kiddos and let everyone know that you have recently been in contact with the dreaded HFM. That's always a fun phone call.
Nasolacrimal duct obstruction (aka blocked tear duct) — This is another really common ailment that affects newborns. The good ole blocked tear duct, which can cause weepy, gunky eyes in your otherwise perfect creation. If this ails them, your pediatrician will likely tell you to do warm washcloth massages around the eye to help work out the blockage. Most kids grow out of this tear duct blockage, and as their bodies grow, the tear duct naturally unclogs. But in some instances, surgery is required to probe the tear duct, allowing it to drain properly and open. This option is usually reserved for tear duct situations that have not resolved on their own by 6 months or older. So, until then, bust out those warm washcloths, mamas, and get to massaging!
Undescended testicle repair — Ok, just stop right there. Men everywhere are crossing their legs, in the event that they are reading this post. Undescended testicle repair is surgery to correct testicles that have not dropped down into the correct position in the scrotum. While I can't speak to any personal experiences regarding this one, I do know at least a handful of boy moms who have had to take their little guy in for this outpatient surgery. Most of the time, the testicles descend while the baby boy is still in utero. But in cases where one or both of them don't, surgery may be required to help them out a little bit.
Anything (even if it's seemingly minor) involving a newborn — Really, I'm basically talking about fever. ANY fever over 100.4°F (when taken rectally) completely warrants a call to your pediatrician and highly likely a trip to the ER. When babies have fever, doctors are going to be looking for a source of infection. What does this mean? It means they are going to be doing a thorough examination to figure out what is causing the fever. This might include a urine analysis, a lumbar puncture (where they do a spinal tap to get spinal fluid to make sure it's not infected), or blood test to check white blood cell count and all that good stuff.
If you do need to take your baby to the ER, visit MedicalCityER.com to find a fast ER near you. For non-emergency medical conditions, try Medical City Virtual Care 24/7 from any computer or mobile device. You can also call the free, 24/7 pediatric Ask a Nurse hotline at (888) 563-5437.
Things to know: As a parent, and especially a new one, ALL of this is hard to go through. The good news is your sweet little baby won't remember even one nanosecond of this stuff, although the memories will certainly be seared into your brain for the rest of eternity.
An additional note about calling the pediatrician: Here is my motto. It is always better safe than sorry. Never feel bad for calling the doctor with a "silly question." Never feel bad about calling the doctor in the middle of the night if you have a concern that can't wait until the morning. Just know that you are a parent of a new baby, and it's OK to call your doctor … a lot. In fact, I'm betting most doctors would prefer you call them, rather than get some medical advice from the internet or some silly blog post (wink wink).
Tara Boyd, a North Texas pediatric speech therapist and mother of three, to Beulah ("Boo"), Lucy ("Lu") and little brother Jacob, dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog Boyd Meets Girl.
Please note: Official guidance related to pregnancy and COVID-19 will continue to evolve as more information becomes available. Please refer to the CDC for the latest information and additional resources.