One way or another, your new pride and joy is going to get crook. Here are the most common baby afflictions and how to tell if it's one of them.
Babies! What are they good for? Can’t cook, can’t fight, can’t pick up the occasional wicket with a couple of tidy overs at the end of a session. Can’t even tell you what’s wrong when they’re sick.
Stupid babies. So needy and crap at sport and snotty and ill.
Except here’s the gist: they can tell you when they’re under the weather, although not in so many words. Just as you’ll learn the difference between a cry that says, “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”, or “I’ve just shat myself so hard it’s damaged the cot”, so you’ll learn when they’re unwell.
Here are the seven most common ailments babies will pick up when they’re too young to talk … and how you can deal with them.
What? A snappy portmanteau of ‘really f*cking sucks’. It’s when the baby pukes a bit into its own mouth, which you’d probably do as well if your parents started having sex again while you slept in a bassinet 30cm away.
For babies, this isn’t due to disgust (probably). It’s because, as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) succinctly puts it, “babies spend a lot of time lying down, have a liquid diet and a short oesophagus”. Tch. Crappy design, then.
It’s also very common and not technically a ‘bug’, but it can be come a bugbear for babies if it keeps up/gets worse, in which case, watch out for symptoms of Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease or ‘GORD’.
Symptoms: Frequent vomiting/spitting up (although in cases of ‘silent reflux’ there might be none visible), arching back and/or pain after most feeds, gagging.
Treatment: At first, smaller feeds, twice as often; feeding them and then sitting them upright afterwards, and if severe, medication to reduce stomach acid. Usually calms down when bub’s enough to sit on its own. For $5, the ABA will schlep you a helpful booklet.
Call the doc if: Difficulty eating causes problems gaining weight or sleeping.
What? It’s a cold, stupid. Babies have shitty immunity and they can’t blow their noses.
Symptoms: You’ve had a cold, right? So you know what the symptoms are: Cough, fever, sore throat, and a nose than runs like Usain Bolt.
There’s also irritability, inability to sleep through or trouble feeding, loss of appetite, red eyes and swollen lymph nodes are just bonuses.
Look forward to 10-14 days of joy each cold — and more than half-a-dozen colds in the first year isn’t unusual. You’ll probably catch them too.
This is your life now. Embrace it — along with a box of tissues and desperate desire to take a garden hose to your sinuses.
Treatment: Baby Panadol is the finest invention the world has seen, and anyone who believes otherwise is a dangerous and delusional crank or childless. But remember, don’t dose junior past the recommendation on the bottle.
Baby will also want extra kip (they’re knackered), extra milk (they’re dehydrated) and extra cuddles (they’re sooky). Also, shower with the kid, with the bathroom extractor fan off (the steam loosens mucus) and try one of those hilarious not-a-joke snot-sucking devices you can pick up at the chemist.
Call the doc if: They’ve got a high fever (or any fever if they are under three months old), difficulty breathing, or their skin goes bluish and pale. See a more comprehensive list of prompts here.
What? Sounds like a sub-brand Brocky might have launched had he taken his stupid energy polariser to Renault, but is actually even less fun.
It’s respiratory syncytial virus which is a bastard bug that can cause infections including of the lung (pneumonia) and inflammation of the tiny breathing tubes in the lung (bronchiolitis). It’s the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in kids under 12 months. Most cases are pretty mild but in extreme cases your baby may need to go to hospital.
Symptoms: A cold that goes on and on, powering into its second week without slowing down; you’re so close to the end of your tether that you’ve only got a vague recollection what you’re tethered to, back there in the mists of sanity.
Was it an anchor? A tree? Who can tell? Fever and ear infections are also common. In the baby. Not you.
Treatment: If it gets really rocky, the kid might be hospitalised so doctors can help with fluids and oxygen. Antibiotics won’t help, and there’s no vaccine; mostly they’ll get over it with lots of rest and fluids.
Call the doc if: You’ll have already visited the doc because the kid’s cold got so bad.
What? Your baby is full of shit. Who said he doesn’t take after dad?
Symptoms: The future heir/heiress has started taking solid food in but stopped pushing it out. Don’t freak out too much if there’s a little blood in the nappy; that recalcitrant nugget could have caused a small rectal tear — which hurts, naturally, but heals fast.
Treatment: Vary the kid’s diet. You’ll know from your own experience that ingesting certain substances (coffee, amphetamines, 3kg of butter chicken) can prompt a rushed passage to the porcelain. The kid is similar — but try other stuff, clearly.
Try pureed pears, barley cereal, swapping back from any dietary changes (eg: formula to cow’s milk), a teaspoon of flax oil in bub’s bottle/cereal once a day.
Call the doc if: The poo-poo train is more than four days late and the li’l conductor is a’hurting.
What? Ah, the yin to constipation’s yang. Like faecal global warming, the solidity of bub’s backdoor ice-belt has gone from Greenland in the 1800s to Iceland last week. And like global warming, it can be fatal if you ignore it.
Symptoms: Newborns who feed on the teat may shit themselves forcefully, like a duck, up to a dozen times a day. By three months, they may occasionally go a day with no action at all. But if the frequency, and (obviously) wateriness increases suddenly, the kid has diarrhoea. How fun for you.
Treatment: The cause is usually viral, but can also be bacterial, allergic or due to medication. It’s usually not a big drama, and will return to normal on its own, but if it keeps up, and is severe, dehydration can be a big problem.
Call the doc if: Your baby has a “high fever, bloody diarrhoea, increasing abdominal pain, vomiting, or you suspect he’s dehydrated or losing weight,” says paediatrician Dr William Sears. “Signs of dehydration are lethargy, dry eyes, dry mouth, and fewer wet nappies.”
6. Ear infections
What? Babies’ ear canals are tiny tubes that get blocked easily, like trying to squirt silicone through a drinking straw instead of a glue gun.
Once sedentary, germs go all Corey Worthington in the stoppered-up goop, which also presses on the ear canal like a gooey ice pick trying to jam its way out from the inside. Unsurprisingly, this sucks for the baby — especially, as you’ll recall from your last head cold, while its lying down.
Symptoms: Crankiness, grabbing at their ears, crying during feeding, rubbish sleep.
Treatment: Baby Panadol or Baby Nurofen during the night. It can help to sit the baby up. Unfortunately, you have to be there to do this — no propping them up with household items is allowed.
Call the doc if: As soon as you expect an ear infection. Bad ones will prompt antibiotics immediately, because they can lead to hearing loss and difficulty learning speech; if they keep up, you might need grommets.
Not the surfing kind … the grommets that fix ear infections are small tubes that get inserted through small cuts in the ear drum that allow air flow to happen until the Eustachian Tube (look it up, I had to) can function again.
It is precisely as fun as that sounds.
What? A temperature of 38 degrees or higher. The most likely reason to see you bundling bub into the car at 2am to drive to the emergency department in your first year of parenthood.
Could be chicken pox. Could be a cold. Could be meningitis. Fever is basically a warning flag.
Symptoms: Sweats and mild dehydration aren’t fun, shivering when it’s yo-yoing up is also less than a blast, and febrile convulsions (basically fever seizures which affect one in 25 kids between the age of six months and five years) are a grade-A parental freakout (although they’re harmless in the long term).
Treatment: Buy a baby thermometer and practice using it. I can tell you first hand that scrambling to find instructions or batteries at 3am with a kid screaming is less fun than slamming your nuts in the door of a 1994 Ford Laser. Then crack out the Baby Panadol, dress baby appropriately, and monitor its progress. Give them a drink of water or milk.
Call the doc if: Okay, this is important. If your baby is under 3 months old and has a fever, get to the GP/hospital immediately. If they are over 3 months, see a doc if they have a fever and show any of these symptoms (drowsiness, slow to respond to your voice, vomiting, headachy, passing out, fitting or having a hard time breathing). Still not sure? Call Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222 to talk to a nurse.