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Dr. Sears: Guide to the Top 7 Infant Illnesses


1. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)

During the first few months many babies experience varying degrees of GER, which occurs when the acidic stomach contents regurgitate back into the esophagus, causing pain. GER is common in babies because the circular band of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach is immature.

Symptoms: GER often gets misdiagnosed as colic. (I encourage my patients' parents not to even use the word colic, but to call it the hurting baby. This motivates each person in the parent-doctor partnership to keep searching for why a child hurts and what to do about it.) Other symptoms include frequent spitting up or vomiting (though not all babies with GER spit up), movements such as throwing the legs up or arching the back, frequent wet burps, or throaty gagging noises.

Treatment: Smaller, more frequent feedings (feed your baby half as much, twice as often) can help because less food in the stomach at one time decreases reflux. Frequent feedings will also stimulate the production of saliva, which neutralizes stomach acid and lubricates the esophageal lining. Keep baby upright and quiet for at least a half hour after feeding to let gravity hold the food down. Breastfeed if you can since breast milk is digested faster than formula is.

When to call the doctor: With mild reflux, these simple home remedies are usually enough. If the GER is severe enough to interfere with weight gain and sleep, or is causing your baby a lot of pain, the doctor may prescribe medications that block the production of stomach acid. GER usually begins to subside around 7 months, when babies spend much of their day upright.


2. Colds

Most babies usually get several colds during their first year. Colds are caused by viral infections that cause the membranes of the nose and respiratory passages to swell and pour out mucus.

Symptoms: Narrowed, mucus-filled breathing passages can cause baby to cough, wheeze, breathe fast, and may interfere with normal sleeping and eating patterns. Your baby may also have a low-grade fever, runny nose, sneezing, and a decreased appetite.

Treatment: If your child is having trouble breathing, sit him on your lap in the bathroom with the shower on the hottest setting for ten minutes. The steam will help loosen the congestion. I also recommend using a nasal aspirator with saline nasal spray to suction out the secretions. Doing this before bedtime can help your baby sleep. Offer your infant extra fluids. Don't use cold medicines without checking with your doctor.

When to call the doctor: If your child is under three months, you should call your doctor at the first sign of illness. For infants older than three months, call the doctor if her lips or nails turn blue, if she's having trouble breathing, or if she has a fever that warrants a call to the doctor. If your infant remains in good spirits and the nasal discharge is clear, give the cold a week on the above home treatment. If your baby's nasal discharge becomes thick and yellow, visit the doctor: She may recommend cold medicine. Antibiotics won't work because they fight bacterial infections, and colds are caused by viruses.