Before I became a Stay at Home Mom, I was a Registered Nurse working in the Emergency Department at a prominent pediatric hospital. I can’t even tell you how many kids I saw in the ER with colds or with the flu. Hundreds. During “Flu season” our hospital would see upwards of 800-1000 children PER DAY just in the ER. That’s a lot of sick kids, and let me tell you… I learned a lot about how to keep children comfortable when they’re sick. I could probably rattle off 20 different distraction techniques (Trust me, distraction WORKS,) but that’s not what I want to talk about today…
Alright, Mom, what do you do when your little one has a cold? When they’re coughing up a storm, sneezing, spreading snot all over everything, fussy, not wanting to eat… What do you do when your kiddo is miserable? 9 times out of 10 these symptoms are viral, (yes, even the Flu is a virus) which unfortunately means there usually isn’t a whole lot you can do to help them. It’s heartbreaking. You want to comfort them. Make them feel better. Make it go away. But often even making a trip to the doctor (or the ER) doesn’t lend much help. Viruses, as your doctor will tell you, just have to go away on their own (even the Flu). Most cold viruses resolve themselves within a week to 10 days. Luckier kids get rid of theirs after only 3-4 days, but they can be MISERABLE until then.
So what can you do?
Until I started working in the ER, I thought most of this information was common knowledge. Boy was I wrong! I started telling every parent the same bits of information just so I didn’t forget and leave something out. I’ll give you my little spiel I used to tell parents in the ER before sending them home with a still-sick kid: The best thing to do is keep the child as comfortable as possible. First, let them rest. Simple as that. Second, and most importantly, make sure they are staying hydrated! They might not want to eat solid foods, and that’s ok. You don’t want to eat when you’re sick either, right? But you HAVE to make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids. Any kind of fluid. Anything they like, anything they want. There are plenty of wives tales out there about not letting them drink milk, not letting them have apple juice, etc. I will say it again: ANY kind of fluid. (and lots of it). So you say the kiddo doesn’t WANT to drink. Too bad, so sad. This is where you have to be a “mean” parent and make them keep drinking. That may sound a little bit harsh, but just think: Yes, kids can get very sick from the flu, even from the common cold, but in my experience, when kids start getting very ill or even dying from these viruses, it is because they are dehydrated. Kids get dehydrated SO fast. So, one more time: lots of fluids. Even little sips every few minutes helps, and you can get creative with things like popsicles and jello. Those count, too!
Lastly, they need to get all of that junk OUT of their bodies. So let them cough and have them blow their nose often! I know, I know… coughing is uncomfortable and it keeps them up at night. But most pediatricians will tell you that over the counter cough medicines 1. Don’t necessarily work. Studies have shown that cough medicines (for people of ANY age) don’t do any more good than a placebo. 2. Aren’t recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and 3. Can actually do some harm to your child, especially if the child isn’t dosed properly. Your child needs to get rid of the mucous in their lungs and respiratory tract. Coughing and blowing their nose is the way to get rid of it. If you suppress the cough with cough syrup, the phlegm can fester in their lungs and either worsen the virus, or turn into bacteria, which then becomes a much bigger problem.
The Secret Weapon
Moms of littles less than 2 years old (or so) have a secret weapon on their side. The bulb syringe! Yes, this simple little tool is key to keeping your child healthy, and helping them feel better when they’re sick. If your child is too young to cough or blow their nose when you ask them to, the bulb syringe can be your Best Friend when your baby is sick.
I’ve been looking everywhere for a good video on proper bulb suctioning technique, but unfortunately I can’t find one. When I do (or after I make one) I’ll post it for all of you!
Tips and Tricks for bulb suctioning correctly
- Use SALINE. And lots of it. It helps tremendously! Saline breaks up the dried mucous in the respiratory tract and helps loosen it so the bulb syringe is able to get it out easier. Also know, that if it gets into baby’s eyes or mouth it is OK! It won’t hurt them! Saline is very similar to tears so it won’t burn their eyes, and they can just swallow it if it gets in their mouth. No big deal. You can buy saline over the counter at any drug store, or you can make your own! Its just warm water with dissolved salt. Easy peasy.
- Don’t be afraid to put the end of the bulb syringe IN your child’s nose. It works as a suction, so if you don’t put it in far enough to create a seal, you won’t get a good suction, and you won’t get anything out. You also need to hold the opposite nostril closed in order to create that perfect seal. The bulb syringe is designed so that it CANNOT go in too far. You will not hurt your child by using it properly. Swaddling baby tight in a blanket helps keep them still so you can bulb suction quickly.
- You might see a little bit of blood. Don’t freak out! This is normal. There are tiny little blood vessels in the nose that are very fragile. They break easily, especially when the inside of the nose is irritated or dry. Using saline will help.
- Your kid WON’T like it! I’ve had countless parents tell me they don’t bulb suction their baby because “he/she doesn’t like it.” But let me ask you this: How would YOU feel if you were sick and couldn’t blow your nose? Hmmm? You would be miserable. And so is your child. So making them upset for a minute or two in order to make them feel better in the long run shouldn’t be a reason to forgo bulb suctioning.
- There’s no time limit to bulb suctioning. What I mean by this is that if your child needs to be bulb suctioned every 15 minutes, you can do that! If they only need to be suctioned every 3 hours, do that! I typically suggest that parents suction right before baby eats and right before baby sleeps or goes down for a nap. Babies aren’t very coordinated when they eat. They are used to breathing through their nose, but if their nose is clogged up, and they have this uncomfortable feeling in their belly (hunger) they know they want to eat, but haven’t quite figured out how to stop eating in order to take a breath. This is why babies choke and sputter and get frustrated and quit eating if their nose is stopped up. If you bulb suction right before they eat, their nose is cleared of mucous and they can breath normally. They’ll eat much better and won’t choke. Same with when they are sleeping. Bulb suctioning right before baby eats or sleeps will help baby eat better and sleep better, which is good for ALL family members 🙂
- You have to clean the bulb syringe after you use it! There are several blog posts floating around about the horrors of bacteria and mold in bulb syringes, and that can certainly happen, IF you don’t clean the syringe, (or if you don’t clean it properly!) Personally, I’ve never had a problem with this. I’ve even cut open a syringe or two to check, and they were as clean as a whistle! After every use, depress the bulb and suck up some warm, soapy water (I like to use the blue dawn dish soap), and swish it around for at least 20 seconds. Squirt it out and repeat. Then rinse with warm water, and let the bulb syringe dry by placing it upside down to drain. I stick it in my dish rack so the opening is not blocked by a towel or anything. If you’re using the syringe a lot, clean it more thoroughly every 3-4 days by letting it soak in a 1:1 solution of warm water and vinegar for about 30 minutes. Again, you’ll need to suck up some of the solution into the bulb in order to kill all of that bacteria. Gross, right? But at least it’s in the syringe instead of your baby’s body! If you’re still worried about having a moldy bulb syringe, I’ve heard great things about the Nose Frida. I can’t personally recommend it because I’ve never tried it…I’ve had wonderful results with just a plain ole bulb syringe, but it is another option!
The moral of the story: Help your child get over a virus by keeping them comfortable, hydrated, and getting rid of that nasty mucous. You can do it, Mom!
Please see my Disclaimer about medical advice.