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Minor ailments and illnesses

For all parents, it can be very worrying when your baby is unwell, even if they are suffering from something which turns out to be quite minor.

Talk to your GP or health visitor if something doesn’t seem quite right to you – they are there to support you.

Scroll through the different ailments and illnesses below for more information and support, or alternatively click on one of the links to be taken to a specific section.

  1. Vomiting/sickness and diarrhoea
  2. Coughs, colds and earache
  3. Ear infections
  4. Breathing and wheezing
  5. Rashes
  6. Nappy rash
  7. Cradle cap

1. Vomiting/sickness and diarrhoea

The most common cause of diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children is a tummy bug, which usually only last a couple of days.

Sickness and diarrhoea bugs are caught easily, so encourage everyone in the family to be extra vigilant about handwashing.

You can usually treat your child at home for sickness and diarrhoea. The most important thing is to give them lots of fluids to drink to avoid dehydration

Keep breastfeeding them or giving them formula feeds as normal so that they stay hydrated. If they are vomiting, offer smaller volumes of milk more often.

Don’t dilute formula milk. Remember to make formula milk to the strength as directed on the instructions.

If your baby or child is having solid food, don’t worry if they don’t want to eat much. Just make sure you regularly offer water for them to drink.

If your baby/child has a temperature, you may want to give infant paracetamol. Don’t give paracetamol to a child under the age of two months without medical advice.

Look out for signs of dehydration, which include:

  • fewer wet nappies
  • sleepiness
  • a sunken fontanelle – the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head

If your child has any of these signs of dehydration, your baby continues to be sick for more than 48 hours, or you’re worried that something more serious is going on, contact your GP.

If your baby is less than 12 months old and has vomiting/diarrhoea, speak to your GP or health visitor.

If they seem floppy or less responsive, seem to have a stiff neck and a rash, call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department immediately.

2. Coughs, colds and earache

Coughs and colds are common in babies and children. As they get older and build up their immunity, they usually get fewer colds. Your baby or child may have:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature

Usually these don’t last longer than a week, and you there are lots of things you can do at home to help their symptoms.

Offer water or very diluted fruit squash, making sure they drink plenty and stay hydrated.

If they have a temperature or are in a lot of discomfort, you may want to give them some children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen; always follow the instructions on the packaging.

Saline nasal drops can also help a stuffy nose; ask your GP, Pharmacist or health visitor about them.

Don’t use plug in or inhaled decongestants for babies under 3 months old. Children under the age of six should not have over the counter cough and cold remedies unless advised to by a GP or Pharmacist.

If your baby has a barking cough and is making a harsh sound when they breathe in, they may be suffering from croup. These symptoms may go hand-in-hand with a runny nose, sore throat and high temperature. Get an appointment with your GP who will check your baby over and advice on treatment.

If the symptoms are severe and your child is finding it hard to breathe, take them to accident and emergency (A&E) straightaway.

3. Ear infections

Like colds, ear infections are common in babies. In fact, ear infections often follow a cold. Signs to look out for include:

  • your baby’s ear looking a bit red
  • your baby pulling or rubbing their ear
  • irritability and restlessness
  • difficulty feeding
  • discharge from the ear

Whether they have a temperature or not, you can treat the pain of ear ache with children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen, making sure you follow the instructions on the packaging.

After an ear infection, you may find your child’s hearing is affected for a few weeks. If the problem carries on, talk to your GP.

When children suffer with lots of ear infections, it can sometimes lead to the build-up of sticky fluid in the middle ear, which can affect their hearing. This is known as ‘glue ear’. Your GP will advise you about treatment.

4. Breathing and wheezing

Rapid or noisy breathing is also known as wheezing. Rapid breathing or panting can be common in babies, even if they don’t have a cold. If your baby is breathing comfortably most of the time and there are no other signs of illness, there’s normally no need to worry.

It might be that they have taken in their milk too quickly, which is causing them to cough or splutter a bit, so check their feeding position and try to slow things down. It may help to hold them upright.

If your baby does have a cold or mild cough, keep an eye on them and talk to your health visitor if you’re worried.

Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory infection that can affect children under the age of two. Most cases are mild and will resolve within 2-3 weeks. The symptoms of bronchiolitis can be similar to those of a common cold. Further symptoms can also develop, including:

  • A raised temperature
  • A dry and persistent cough
  • Problems feeding
  • Wheezing

Take a look at this PDF for more information about bronchiolitis symptoms in children under one year old.

You should seek further advice from your GP if you are concerned about your child, if they have a persistent high temperature, are not feeding normally and taking less than half of their usual amounts of feeds, or they have not had a wet nappy for 12 hours or more.

Call 999 or take them straight to A&E if their breathing is really laboured (flaring nostrils or the spaces between the ribs goes in when breathing) or if they look very pale or slightly blueish.

5. Rashes

It’s likely you’ll be faced with a whole range of different rashes as your baby grows, but it’s important to know the difference between a minor irritation and a more serious condition like meningitis that needs medical attention straightaway.

Go to A&E or call 999 if your child has a rash and they:

  • have a stiff neck
  • are bothered by light
  • seem confused
  • are shaking uncontrollably
  • have a fever you can’t control
  • have unusually cold hands and feet
  • (have a rash) that doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it

The NHS website has a really useful visual guide to the different rashes you may come across.

6. Nappy rash

Nappy rash can be very sore, but it is fairly easy to treat.

When nappy rash develops, the skin around the baby’s nappy area becomes inflamed, hot to the touch and, if the rash persists, small blisters can appear.

Nappy rash happens when the baby’s skin has contact over a period of time with wee or poo in the nappy, regardless if you use re-usable nappies or disposable ones. The skin can also become sore when the nappy rubs against it.

Nappy rash doesn’t always happen because a soiled nappy has been left on too long – it may be that your baby has particularly sensitive skin.

Nappy rash is also more likely when your baby:

  • Is suffering from diarrhoea – the substances in poo that irritate the skin are more concentrated in runny poo
  • Has had an allergic reaction, for example to perfumed baby wipes, soap, detergent or a particular brand of nappy. Nappy rash can also be caused by lactose intolerance or a food allergy. If you think this is the cause, talk to your GP
  • Has been given antibiotics. Sometimes nappy rash is caused by a fungal infection called thrush, and taking antibiotics makes you more likely to suffer from thrush

Preventing and treating nappy rash

  • Make sure you change wet or dirty nappies as soon as possible.
  • Clean the whole area thoroughly using water or fragrance-free baby wipes.
  • If your baby is particularly prone to nappy rash, choose a brand of nappy that is super absorbent
  • Give your baby regular baths then dry their skin gently by patting with a towel rather than rubbing.
  • Give your baby some time to lie on a towel or changing mat with their nappy off so that fresh air gets to the skin.
  • Avoid perfumed bubble bath and soap
  • Apply a barrier cream to your baby’s bottom

Mild cases of nappy rash should clear up after two to three days. If the rash is severe and is causing your baby discomfort, your GP or health visitor may prescribe, or advise you use a special cream to soothe and treat it, as well as a barrier cream to prevent further infection.

7. Cradle cap

Young babies often develop scaly yellow or brown patches on their scalp, and this is known as ‘cradle cap’. Sometimes the scales flake off and the skin can look a bit red underneath.

Cradle cap is common and doesn’t cause any itching or discomfort for your baby. You should avoid picking at the scales though as this could cause an infection.

There are some things you can do to reduce the scaly build-up:

  • Brush your baby’s scalp using a soft baby hair brush, even if your baby doesn’t have a lot of hair, at least twice daily
  • Use a baby shampoo to wash your baby’s scalp regularly and then brush with a soft baby brush to loosen the flakes
  • Rub a vegetable oil onto the scales and leave on for 30-60 minutes (do not leave this on overnight). Wash off using a mild baby shampoo and then brush the scalp as before. Avoid using olive oil though as it can damage the protective barrier on a baby’s skin
  • If these treatments don’t work, special shampoos are available from the pharmacy. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you about which ones are appropriate. Don’t use shampoo if your baby has eczema

If the cradle cap starts to look red and sore, consult your GP, as it may have become infected.

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Page last reviewed: 03-03-2021

Next review due: 03-03-2024