Keeping your baby healthy during their first winter

A new baby can be a challenge for parents at the best of times, but winter can bring its own set of worries. Here, Dr Yiannis Ioannou, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children gives parents advice on keeping a new baby healthy over the winter period.

Keeping your baby warm

At this time of year many new parents worry about keeping their baby warm enough whereas in actual fact overheating your baby, by wrapping in too many layers, is of greater concern and should be avoided. Ideally room temperature should be 16-20°C and remove your baby’s hat while indoors.

It is fine to take your baby outside when they’re very young, as long as mum is feeling up to it. The fresh air will be good for both of you, can help babies settle and exposure to daylight can help your baby begin differentiating between day and night. You shouldn’t feel pressured to get out and about until you feel fully recovered from your labour. In terms of keeping warm in the winter weather parents should dress their baby in the same number of layers they have on, but with one extra layer for baby. Layers can be added or removed depending on how cold it is.

Coping with family events

There is no doubt that when there’s a new baby everyone in the family (especially in large families like mine) wants to come and visit. This can lead some parents to worry about their baby being exposed to illnesses like coughs and colds – particularly at this time of year.

It’s important to remember that babies do inherit some immunity from their mums in the womb and while breastfeeding. So although I wouldn’t recommend that your new baby gets lots of kisses from someone who has a cold, being in the same room should be fine. Lots of handwashing is also important as this helps reduce the spread of viruses.

Christmas can be a busy time in terms of events and family gatherings and my advice would be not to feel that you have to do too much, too soon. Try to enjoy those first few precious weeks with your baby.

Illnesses to look out for

Respiratory illnesses caused viruses can pose a risk as babies tend to breathe mainly through their noses, so a blocked nose can cause breathing and feeding difficulties in very young infants.

Bronchiolitis is a particular illness to be aware of at this time of year. It’s a viral chest infection which starts off with symptoms similar to a cold, with blocked nose and cough, difficulty feeding, rapid and laboured breathing and a fever (a fever is a temperature greater than 37.5 C). In most cases the symptoms will be mild and clear up within a week, but the cough can last for several weeks. If your baby is feeding less than usual and a having fewer wet nappies, or having difficulty breathing these are all reasons to take your baby to see doctor.

Gastroenteritis usually caused by viruses (for example norovirus) causes vomiting and diarrhoea and is also common at this time of year. Young children can usually be looked after at home by encouraging small regular sips of fluids. Young babies can easily become dehydrated and should be seen by a doctor especially if they appear drowsy, have a fever, or are not managing to keep fluids down. Green vomit or blood seen in diarrhoea can indicate other more serious underlying causes that need to be checked urgently.

What to do if your baby is unwell

Babies and young children can usually be cared for at home and tend to bounce back quickly, but need to be monitored closely. I do recommend having a thermometer at home to check for a fever, keep up with fluids, whether is breast milk or formula and keeping them comfortable by reducing pain with paracetamol or ibuprofen for children. If your baby is less than three months and has a fever they should always be checked by a doctor.

However if you are worried about your baby it is always worth consulting your GP. Warning signs that your baby may need medical attention are:

  • cold hands and feet
  • skin looks mottled (blotchy)
  • lethargy or being unresponsive
  • a rash, especially if their temperature is 37.5° or higher
  • a bulging or sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of the head)
  • blood in the poo or green vomit.

I also recommend that your baby has all the relevant immunisations, as these will protect them from some more serious illnesses throughout their lives.

My main message to parents would be not to worry too much if their baby seems to be fighting off frequent infections, as in most cases it’s actually a sign that they are building up a healthy immune system.

*Original article published 2016, Net Doctor

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