I Have a Cold. Will My Newborn Catch It?

A newborn lacks a fully developed immune system which makes him more susceptible to catching a cold.

However, directly after birth, if you breastfeed, the first milk you produce is known as colostrum which is rich in highly beneficial antibodies which can protect your newborn. Formula fed infants lack the protection of the colostrum and may be at an increased risk of catching your cold.

Newborns Have Some Immunity

Newborns usually carry some immunity that they inherited from their mothers for the first six months of life, according to Dr. Saad Saad, a noted pediatric surgeon based in New Jersey. This acquired immunity keeps most newborns healthy so colds are rare but they do happen.

Cold Viruses

There are three types of viruses that commonly cause colds, the rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, and coronaviruses. Colds are transmitted when the body ingests the virus. Viruses are spread not only through touch but they are also airborne. Once inside the human body, the virus starts to reproduce.

The symptoms are from a combination of your body’s reactions to the virus and also from the virus itself. As soon as the body realizes that it has been invaded by a virus it immediately starts a rapid defense. The body’s immune reaction causes fatigue, aches, and fever.

Breastfeeding With a Cold

If you are breastfeeding and you contract a cold virus your body starts immediately adapting to fight the virus and also produce valuable antigens that are released into your breast milk to be passed to your baby.

The antigens help the baby’s body fight off the cold virus. Even if your baby does contract the cold virus from you the best thing that you can do is continue to breastfeed your baby because the valuable antigens from your breast milk will help the baby’s body conquer the virus.

Averages Number of Colds per Year

As an adult, you will contract two to five colds per year. Unfortunately, infants and toddlers usually experience six to 10 colds per year. Families with multiple children are even more at risk and their little ones often suffer from 12 or more every year. As your infant grows, he will put his hands in his mouth and often lick things. This makes it even easier for him to become sick.

Seasonal Viruses

You are in the most in danger of giving your newborn a cold during the fall and winter months. The cold air and the indoor heat dry out the nasal membranes. Dry nasal membranes are especially at risk of contracting cold viruses. Viruses also flourish in the dry indoor heat.

Sanitizing and Sickness Prevention

Any time you are sick you should wash your hands with soap and water before touching your baby. Try to not breathe directly on your infant and refrain from sneezing in the baby’s vicinity.

You might want to wear a face mask for added protection. Also, never share cups or utensils with your baby. Sometimes a mom will hold her baby’s pacifier in her mouth while she feeds or changes the infant. If you are sick then you should not do such an action.

What Happens if Your Baby Catches a Cold

If your newborn contracts your cold the first symptom is typically a runny nose. The mucus usually appears clear or white but as the cold becomes worse it may turn green or yellow. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty nursing because of a stuffy nose or a sore throat
  • Red eyes

How to Treat a Newborn With a Cold

Here are several ways you can alleviate your little one’s physical symptoms:

  1. Use an Aspirator: Babies are usually miserable with a cold because they cannot blow their noses. You should use an aspirator on your baby’s nostrils to remove the mucus and clear the airway.
  2. Upright Sleeping: You can also let your baby nap in his car seat so he is in a more upright position and can keep his airway clearer. However, do not leave him sleeping in the car seat overnight unattended. In the baby’s crib, a crib wedge is beneficial in raising the newborn’s head.
  3. Petroleum Jelly:  Placing petroleum jelly below your infant’s nostrils will also help prevent irritation.
  4. Vaporizer: Running a vaporizer in your baby’s room is a great way to add moisture to the air which helps break up mucus.
  5. Warm Bath: A warm bath soothes your infant and may break up mucus so your baby can better sleep. Many moms use lavender or eucalyptus in the baby’s bath. 
  6. Feeding: If your infant becomes sick then you should continue to breastfeed or bottle feed. An ill baby needs an adequate fluid intake. If your baby is too sick to breastfeed or nurse then you should immediately seek medical care.

Over the Counter Medications

You should not use over the counter medications without first consulting with your physician because many medications will transfer into your breastmilk. If your newborn is sick, you must also refrain from giving the little one medication without talking with your infant’s pediatrician.

What the Experts Say

“A person is contagious starting one day before symptoms begin, so baby probably has already been exposed. Breastfeeding while you have the flu will help pass on your protective antibodies to your nursing infant,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP, editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ book Baby and Child Health.

“A baby will usually want to nurse or take a bottle more frequently when sick because he needs that comfort,” says Dr. William Sears, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He goes on to say, “Babies under 1 typically don’t breathe through their mouths very well, so when the nose is clogged, it is truly uncomfortable for them.”

Unfortunately, taking care of your newborn when you are sick is a difficult task. If you have a cold, your newborn can catch it but with a few precautions, you might be able to prevent transmission.


Kimberly Sharpe

Based in Florida, Kimberly Sharpe has been a full-time writer since 2006. Her writing has a strong focus on travel, parenting, outdoor sports, gardening, health issues, pets (both domestic and exotic), home improvement, DIY, and business promos. Her work has appeared in USA Today, MORR Gear, Hipmunk, Travelocity, Livestrong, Hotels.com, Hydro Live, Maximum Yield, eHow, Yahoo News, SF Gate, Garden Guides, Whitefence, S.F. Gate, fixr.com, and numerous other publications. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, India, and Sri Lanka in an effort to expand her knowledge and enhance her writing skills.

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