It can be very frightening when your baby gets sick.  Because we can’t communicate with infants and toddlers the same way we can with older children and adults, it is even more difficult to understand why they are upset and what we can do to help.

It is not uncommon for young children to get upper respiratory infections like colds and flu.  This is even more likely if your child attends a daycare centre, if you have other school-aged children in the home, or if there are people in your household who are ill.

Fortunately, most healthy children will easily recover from these types of infections.

Antibiotics and your child

Most of the infections your child will get are caused by viruses, and can’t be cured by antibiotics.  These include:

  • Common cold (viral upper respiratory tract infections)
  • Sore throat (viral pharyngitis)
  • Cough (viral bronchitis)
  • Runny nose

Your child will rarely need antibiotics to get better from these types of infections

Most viral infections will go away on their own, without antibiotics, antivirals, or other medications.  The best thing you can do for your sick child is to ensure they are comfortable.  Make sure they get plenty of rest, stay well hydrated, and eat nutritious meals or snacks.

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Do not give over-the-counter medicines to a child under 6 years without first speaking to your doctor.  There is no evidence that these drugs will help relieve your child’s symptoms.

The only exception to this rule is the use of ibuprophen (for example, Advil ®) or acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol ®) to help treat your child’s fever.  Speak to your pharmacist or read the directions carefully to ensure you are providing the right dose for your child’s age.  Do NOT give your child ASA (acetylsalicylic acid or Aspirin ®) because it can increase their risk of brain and liver damage.

When to See your Doctor

See a doctor if your infant, toddler, or preschooler develops any of the following:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin colour
  • Fever or diarrhea in a child less than 6 months old
  • Fever with a rash
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Dehydration (dry sticky mouth, no urine, or fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours)
  • Excessively sleepy or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held
  • Symptoms improve, but then return with a fever and worse cough
  • Earache (pulling on an ear) or pus draining from the ear
  • Vomiting for more than 4 hours

What can I do to keep my child healthy?

You can’t prevent every cold and infection, but there are a number of things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your young child will get sick.

  • Ask friends and family members to wash their hands before picking up your baby.  This is especially important for newborns, who are more susceptible to illness
  • As much as possible, keep your child away from people who are ill
  • Wash your hands often, especially after changing diapers and before preparing food.  Wash your baby’s hands and teach your older child to keep their hands clean.
  • Breastfeeding provides your baby with optimum immunity.  Once your child is eating solid foods, provide nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Keep toys and other objects clean, especially if your child is ill

Of course, it is also important to ensure your child’s immunizations are up to date.  Vaccines can prevent a number of viral respiratory illnesses in children, and should be given as soon as your child is old enough.  Check the immunization schedule in your province/territory or speak to your child’s doctor to learn more.

Other resources

The Canadian Paediatric Society provides a lot of information on how to help your child feel better when they feel sick.  Visit the following links for more information: