Most babies have 8 to 10 colds by the time they are 2 years old. Colds are caused by viruses. They are highly contagious and easily spread through the air and by touching contaminated surfaces.

For example, you can touch another person's hands who has a cold and then touch your own nose or eyes. If a cold virus is on the person's hands, you may then get a cold.

Unfortunately, colds are a part of life. The symptoms last about a week and are all too familiar: runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough and slight fever.

These symptoms can be more uncomfortable for a baby than for an older child or adult. A baby can't blow her nose. She also has a hard time breathing through her mouth. A stuffy nose can make it difficult for a baby to suck, interfering with feeding.

When should you call your baby's provider about colds? 

If your baby's younger than 3 months old, call his provider if your baby:

  • Develops any fever (more than 100.4 F) or cold symptoms. The provider may want to examine her to make sure she is not developing a more serious illness.
  • Refuses several feedings.
  • Is more irritable than usual or especially sleepy.

If your baby's older than 3 months old, call the health provider if your baby:

  • Has trouble breathing
  • Her nostrils widen with each breath
  • The skin or muscles around the ribs tightens with each breath. This is called retractions.
  • Her mouth or nails turn blue 
  • Her runny or stuffy nose lasts longer than 10 days
  • Her cough lasts more than 7 days
  • Pulls at or complains of pain in her ear 
  • Has a fever of 102 F or above
  • Is very sleepy or fussy  

Although there's no cure for the common cold, you can make your baby more comfortable. If your baby is having trouble sucking, try using a rubber suction bulb to help clear her nose before each feeding. Your provider may recommend nasal saline (salt water) drops to ease stuffiness. Putting a cool-mist humidifier in her room may also help her breathe more easily.

You can try to protect your baby from colds by keeping her away from people who are sneezing or coughing. This is especially important when your baby is less than 3 months old.

Last reviewed: November, 2013