What To Do When Baby Gets the Flu

Mother looking at medications with baby.
A mom looking at medications with her baby. Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

The flu - or influenza - is bad for all of us but when baby gets it, the risk of serious illness is much higher. Children under age 5 - and especially those under age 2 - are at high risk for complications from the flu. If you suspect that your baby has the flu, there are several things you can and should do. 

  1. Call Her Pediatrician. Getting diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible is critical with influenza. Her health care provider can run tests and figure out if she has the flu. She can also explain what the concerns are and tell you what to watch for
  1. Give Him the Right MedicineMany medications are not safe for young kids. Tamiflu - which is the most commonly prescribed antiviral medication used to treat the flu is approved for children over 2 weeks of age. However, many over the counter medications are not safe for babies. If your baby is sick, be sure to check with his health care provider before giving any over the counter medications. 
  2. Know The Warning Signs. Kids can go from being just a little sick to seriously ill very quickly and the signs aren't always clear. Since the flu is a respiratory illness, you need to know how to tell if your child is having trouble breathing. You should also pay attention to how well she is eating and drinking as well as her activity level. If your baby is very young, a decreased appetite may be the biggest indicator that something is wrong. 
  3. Keep Him Hydrated. Make sure your baby is getting enough fluids. If he is strictly bottle or breast fed, you may need to offer milk in smaller amounts more frequently than normal. Congestion and coughing can make drinking difficult for babies, so make sure you suction out his nose before you offer the breast or bottle and give him time to take breaks if he needs them. Keep an eye on the wet diapers too. If an infant has not had a wet diaper in 8 hours, contact his pediatrician right away. This is a serious sign that he could be dehydrated. 
  1. Make Her as Comfortable as Possible. Although there are not many medications that are safe for babies, there are still things you can do to help make her more comfortable when she is sick. Running a cool-mist humidifier in her room when she is sleeping can help a lot with congestion and coughing. Using saline drops in her nose when she is stuffy and suctioning mucous out when it's needed will help her as well. 
  1. Monitor His Temperature. Although fevers aren't dangerous, a high fever in a young baby can be a sign of a more serious illness. Rectal temperatures are most accurate in kids under a year old. (Not sure how to do that? Learn how to use a thermometer correctly.) You should call your child's doctor if your baby is under 3 months old with a temperature over 100.3F. If your baby is between 3 and 12 months old, contact his doctor if his temperature is over 102.2F. The flu typically causes fever but it is particularly concerning when symptoms start to improve, the fever goes away for a few days and then comes back higher with different or worse symptoms. If you notice this pattern, seek medical attention or contact your child's doctor. This is a sign that your baby may have developed a secondary infection and may need a different medication. 

Sources:

"Protecting Against Influenza (Flu): Advice for Caregivers of Young Children." Seasonal Influenza (Flu). 10 Jul 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 25 Sep 15. 

"Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine." Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 12 Aug 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 25 Sep 15.

"Who's at Risk? Children & Infants." Flu.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 25 Sep 15. 

"How to Take a Child's Temperature". Health Issues 20 Aug 15. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics.  29 Sep 15.

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