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Sick-Baby Survival Tips

The baby monitor was jacked up as high as possible. I could hear my little girl breathe as she slept during her first night with a cold. But the sounds weren't comforting me at all, even though my baby was just 20 feet away in our small apartment. I was unreasonably terrified that her stuffed-up nose would keep her from breathing in her sleep, so I camped out on the floor next to her crib. She slept just fine, but I didn't sleep a wink that night. I was an exhausted mess the next day, which made dealing with her fever and crankiness more challenging than necessary.

I told my new-mom friends what I'd done, and most fessed up to holding ridiculous all-night vigils the first time their babies were ill as well. It was a relief to discover that this mommy madness was common. But my stress and fatigue made it really hard to focus on anything else  -- work, paying the bills, personal hygiene  -- until my baby was healthy again. The good news for all you beginners out there is that with each cold and case of sniffles your little one gets (and she will get them; most healthy children have between six and nine viral infections each year), your anxiety will decrease.

I've been a mom now for four-plus years. I have three sets of small nostrils in my care. These days, a stuffy nose means I rub some mentholatum on the baby's chest and put him to bed. There are still days when one, two, or three of the kids aren't well  -- and I'm a wreck. But I've learned what to do to help them feel better and help myself feel energized. I collected the best "my baby's sick!" stay-sane tips that have worked in my house and in the homes of parents I know and respect. Hang in there.

Christina Boyle is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer. While she was writing this, both of her girls had a fever, and her son was doing his best to catch his sisters' germs by chewing on their most beloved toys.

Dealing with the doctor

Don't feel guilty if you schlep your little fusspot to the pediatrician swearing she's got an ear infection and she checks out A-OK. And don't feel bad if you're back there in a day or two because she's even fussier. One day my baby boy's ears were clear, and the next  -- whamo!  -- ear infection.

Represent your baby. You  -- not your sitter, your mother-in-law, the nice nurse, or the seasoned doctor  -- are your baby's best health care advocate. If you have concerns or doubts, voice them. No matter how silly they may seem.

Bring the doctor a list of questions. If your baby is sick, chances are you're sleep deprived and your brain is fuzzy. Write your questions down as they pop up. If I hadn't scribbled, "Anything 4 the pain?" on a sticky note, my twins wouldn't have gotten pain-numbing drops for their ear infections. As a result, waiting for the antibiotics to kick in wasn't as bad as it could've been.

Butter up your pediatrician's staff. You will have false alarms. You will call late in the afternoon to see if they can squeeze your baby in. You will call on Saturday mornings. If you are kind, the office will be happy to accommodate you. If not, they probably won't try so hard. Last year, we rushed my infant son to the doctor at 5:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The office technically closed at five, but they miraculously fielded our panicky phone call and told us to come over. We sent flowers, and they felt appreciated.

Be prepared

Keep a stash of new toys. Your baby doesn't need to play with all of the holiday toys the day she gets them. Put some away in your closet and bust them out as need be to soothe sick-day crankies.

Find a pharmacy that delivers and/or is open 24 hours. See if you can set up a house account.

Have a trustworthy reference on hand. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a book that you should keep at home to answer questions about your baby's health. (The American Academy of Pediatrics' Caring for Your Baby and Young Child is a great one.)

Stock up on the bland foods you'll need if your baby has a stomach bug. For me, that means soy formula, rice cereal, applesauce, mashed bananas, and crushed Saltines.

Baby yourself

Try to get a few things done for yourself. Knocking a couple errands off your list may make you feel more human. One sick day, all I wanted to do was go to the bank and deposit a check. The check reminded me of my freelance writing, a non-mom responsibility. I daydreamed about buying fancy shoes with the money. Shoes that no child of mine would ever barf on.

Look for extra help. You know how people say, "Is there anything I can do?" Say yes when family, friends, or neighbors ask if you need some help when your child is sick. I had my across-the-street neighbor, Karen, take a bag of holiday cards to the post office for me when she offered. But the real holiday miracle happened when a neighbor's college-age daughter, home on break, offered to babysit. She built snow girls outside with my oldest, while I was inside tending to feverish, coughing twins.

Stay healthy. Exercise to get your stress out, even if it means simply doing 20 jumping jacks during a commercial break or taking a quick walk around your office parking lot at lunch time. And take your vitamins. The simple act of swallowing calcium and multi-vitamin pills every day makes me feel better and more in control.

Splurge on delicious coffee. My friend Annie, due with her fourth any day now, puts her crew in the car and heads to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks for a tasty java jolt (she chooses decaf now that's she pregnant) after a rough night with a sick child. It gets her out and feels like a real treat. Another friend splurges on a fancy coffee concoction on her way to work to perk her up from the sleepless night she just had tending to her little sickie.

Train yourself to nap. My friend Sherry, a mom of three, swears by the restorative power of a 20-minute snooze. I can't nap unless I'm really sick or very pregnant. So Sherry sent me The Power Nap Kit ($25; powernapkit.com)

Stay connected

Call your friends who don't have kids. Share the story of how you cleaned vomit out of the cracks in your floor with a toothpick. Friends will tell you, "I don't know how you do it. You're amazing." And you'll realize that you don't know how you do it and that you are amazing.

Keep your spouse in the loop. Give him all the gory details so he can take over for you. He should know how to use the nebulizer, how to take a rectal, and where the suppositories are (and where to put them!).

Get naked. Sexual healing makes you feel like a natural woman, not a mom who's covered in dried spitup.

Watch the news. Put it on in the background as you pay bills or cook dinner. Hearing the bad news may help you get perspective on your baby's evil diaper rash.

Bond with your baby. Sometimes, in the midst of all the thermometers, nasal aspirators, and sleepless nights, you and your child can share some special moments. Like being able to hold your little squirmer for longer than he'd ever let you if he were well. And like my baby girl saying "Mama" for the first time. Granted, she said it after I took her rectal temperature, but it made my day anyway.

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