Your Baby and Respiratory Syncytial Virus

by Dr. Jennifer Brannon

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a very common respiratory virus that usually causes mild symptoms like those of a common cold. Even though most people recover in less than two weeks, infants and older people can have more serious symptoms.

Most children will get RSV by the time they turn 2, and they usually have mild cold symptoms like runny nose and cough.  Infants less than 1 year old that have RSV can develop bronchiolitis (inflammation of the smaller airways in the lungs) or pneumonia (an infection in the lungs).  The babies at highest risk of severe illness are those that are very young, premature infants, infants with heart or lung disease, infants with immune problems, and infants with problems swallowing.

Symptoms that your baby might have RSV include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneeze
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased activity level
  • Wheezing
  • Apnea (pauses while breathing in very young infants)

How can you protect your baby from getting RSV?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Stay away from people that have symptoms of illness
  • Breastfeed as long as possible, even if you are sick (this provides the baby with antibodies against illnesses you are exposed to)
  • Disinfect surfaces
  • Encourage other young children to not kiss or touch your baby on the head or hands
  • Cover sneezes and coughs (and wash hands afterwards)

What should you do if your infant is sick?

The good news is that most infections will go away on their own within a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, you can help your infant by:

  • Making sure your infant is getting plenty to drink to avoid dehydration
  • Relieving symptoms of pain or fever with over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Helping them clear mucous from their nose when possible
  • Avoiding the use of cold medicines (many have ingredients that are not safe for infants)
  • Calling your doctor if your infant is having trouble breathing, wheezing, or not drinking well.

Jennifer Brannon is a pediatrician, author, wife, and mom of 3 great kids. She loves to read when she has a chance between her children’s activities. One of her areas of interest is helping new breastfeeding moms and babies succeed, and teaching new doctors about breastfeeding.

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