First came the sneezes. Then the fever, sleeplessness, and inconsolable crying jags. My 6-month-old daughter, Evelyn, was miserable with her first cold. And that was just the beginning; on the second day of her infection, I started to feel ill too. "Great," I thought. "Just what I need. I thought parents were immune to getting sick."
But as nice as that would be, the opposite is true; your child is exposed to many sicknesses when she goes to playgroup and childcare. In fact, by the time your baby turns two, she probably will have had between eight and 10 colds.
Dr. Charles Shubin, director of pediatrics at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore, Maryland, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and assistant professor of pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says that "reasonable exposure (which can be as simple as contact with siblings, other adults, people at childcare) will lead to an infection cycle of about three weeks." In other words, the time between illnesses (from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next), usually lasts three weeks. Dr. Shubin adds, "This cycle makes it seem as though many kids are sick all the time. They don't recover before they get sick again." But this is not something to worry about, assures Dr. Shubin. In fact, a baby who has frequent colds as a young child will probably be healthier later in life.
That fact does not make those first years easier on your baby—or on you. Having a baby or toddler in the house increases the likelihood that other family members will become sick. "It comes with the territory of being a parent—you are going to have a sick kid and you'll have to deal with that one way or another ... Children will share their sicknesses with you—they won't share their toys, but they'll share colds," laughs Dr. Shubin.
To keep the sharing of infections to a minimum, hand washing offers the best protection. "There's no question, if you want to limit your exposure and limit your illness (especially when caring for a sick child), wash your hands. When a kid blows his nose or a kid sneezes, clean his hands and clean your hands. The bottom line is that if you want to do something to keep you and your child from getting sick, wash your hands, particularly after contact with your child. It will prevent most of the infections," says Dr. Shubin.
Nevertheless, there is no way to prevent infection 100 percent of the time. And no matter how diligent you are, your little one will occasionally share that virus or bug. The next time you and your baby are feeling under the weather, here are some tips for making it back to health together.