Basics of Common Childhood Diseases for Dads

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Babies have immunity to many illnesses for their first six months because of antibodies passed on during pregnancy. Here’s a Dad’s guide to the illnesses you’re most likely to encounter in baby’s first year.

Common colds explained for dads

The common cold is so common that it comes in more than 100 varieties, which is why having a cold this month doesn’t mean you won’t get another one next month. And because your baby has never had any of them, he’s likely to have at least one case of the sniffles in the first year.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that the average baby has eight to ten colds in the first two years of life, and each one lasts seven to ten days, no matter how many decongestants you buy.

For most babies, colds aren’t serious, although they are messy. Typical symptoms of a cold include

  • Coughing

  • Decreased appetite (young babies may find it hard to nurse or drink from a bottle because of nasal stuffiness)

  • Irritability

  • Low-grade fever up to 100 degrees

  • Runny nose, which may start with clear, thin secretions that turn thicker and yellow or green

  • Sneezing

Children under the age of 2 shouldn’t be given decongestant medications at all, according to the latest FDA findings that they don’t work in young children and can have harmful side effects. Infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen is fine to help the baby feel better.

Running a cool-mist humidifier can also help clear clogged little noses. You can also use the bulb syringe you got from the hospital to suck the gunk out of little noses or invest in newer “suckers” that look funny but actually do a better job at removing boogers.

Although colds aren’t usually serious, babies younger than three months old who develop cold symptoms need to visit a medical practitioner. Babies that young are more likely to develop pneumonia or other complications from a cold.

Basics of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for dads

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a lower respiratory illness that infects most children at least once before age 2. Symptoms include lethargy, poor feeding, cough, difficulty breathing, and fever. RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia in children under 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although most cases are mild, severe illness requiring hospitalization can occur in children under 12 months, those with chronic health issues, and premature or otherwise compromised infants.

For less severe cases, which occur far more frequently, acetaminophen or ibuprofen helps with discomfort. Like most viruses, this one needs to run its course. If there’s a reason to determine whether an infection is RSV, your medical practitioner can take a nasal swab and test for the virus.

Wheezing explained for dads

Wheezing often follows a cold and doesn’t always mean a baby is going to have asthma. Children younger than 2 who wheeze with respiratory infections are no more likely to develop asthma than children who don’t wheeze, according to a study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Children who start wheezing at an older age are more likely to develop asthma.

Wheezing can be scary for parents and may require prescription bronchodilators that are breathed in as a mist, using a nebulizer, to open the narrowed airways and make it easier for the baby to breathe. Wheezing always requires a call to the pediatrician, especially if the baby doesn’t have a cold or cold symptoms.

An object stuck in the throat or more serious medical conditions can also cause wheezing. Some children wheeze with every upper respiratory infection and may need nebulizer treatments whenever they have bad colds.

A child who’s limp and exhausted, who has a bluish tinge around the lips, or who’s struggling to breathe needs immediate medical attention. Call 911.

Basics of ear infections for dads

Between 5 and 15 percent of babies with colds develop an ear infection, which just prolongs the misery. Around half of all babies have an ear infection in the first year of life, with or without a cold. Contrary to popular opinion, tugging on the ears doesn’t always indicate an ear infection, although it can. Other ear infection symptoms include the following:

  • Head shaking

  • Irritability

  • Mild fever

  • Refusal to nurse or take a bottle

  • Trouble sleeping

The thinking on treating ear infections has changed during the last few years. Ear infections may not require antibiotic treatment because more than eight out of ten heal without treatment. Some doctors treat and others wait, depending on the symptoms and the infection’s severity. Regardless, infant pain relievers help with discomfort.