As important as it is to know how to care for your baby when she's sick, it's equally important to keep her from becoming ill in the first place. When babies are under the weather they divert a lot of energy into healing instead of growing. Here are some simple things you can do to strengthen your little one's immune system.
See the Doc
I advise my patients to schedule regular well-baby exams, usually every two months through age 6 months and every three months until age 2. This allows your pediatrician to regularly monitor your baby's health and development, and to nip any illnesses in the bud. It also gives you the chance to ask questions, alert your doctor to any concerns and learn how to become an active partner in keeping your tot as healthy as he can be.
I believe that staying on top of immunizations is an essential part of illness prevention. Vaccines are often at the center of controversy, causing some parents to worry about their safety. But recent research has disproven an earlier reported autism-vaccine link, and I believe this should no longer be a concern. (The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees.) In fact, I've seen potentially serious ailments such as whooping cough and measles become much rarer because of immunizations. Follow the schedule of vaccinations and well-baby checkups as advised by your doctor and the AAP (aap.org), and if you have questions, don't hesitate to talk to your pediatrician.
Keep it Clean
Your baby can pick up and spread germs all kinds of ways -- handling toys, holding germy hands, rubbing her nose, gumming whatever objects she comes across -- so it's important to keep her environment clean.
Caregivers should wash their hands frequently, especially after handling food, changing a diaper, petting animals or touching a sick person. Have older siblings, caregivers and other adults wash up frequently and thoroughly, especially before handling or holding your newborn or infant. Start early, teaching your child to wash her own hands with soap and water before meals.
Help keep your baby's sensitive breathing passages healthy by dusting her bedroom as often as possible. Clean the nursery regularly, and minimize stuffed animals and fuzzy toys that can trap and collect dust (though a couple of loveys is perfectly fine). Bar the cats and dogs from her sleeping environment too, and consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter, especially for preemies and infants with respiratory problems such as asthma, or if your baby has a cold or cough.
If your child is in day or group care, you'll find that one of the first things kids "share" is infections. To reduce the chances of your baby's getting sick, ask about sanitation and sick-child policies. Do caregivers wash their hands after changing diapers, maintain separate diapering and food-serving areas, sanitize the toys on a regular basis, and discourage sharing of bottles, pacifiers and other personal items? What are the restrictions on admitting sick children? Is there a separate area for children who get sick on site to wait until their parents pick them up? The AAP recommends you keep your child home if she has a fever, if she isn't well enough to participate in class, or if you think she may be contagious.