What to Expect From a Baby's First Cold

By: Dr. Nazeli Gevorgyan - May 4, 2024 - 13 Minute Read

Baby's First Cold | The Milky Box

Experiencing a baby’s first cold can be a daunting experience for parents, especially for first-time caregivers. From the initial onset of symptoms to navigating through various stages of discomfort, understanding what to expect during this period can help ease anxieties and ensure effective care for your little one.

In this article, we’ll explore the typical progression of a baby’s cold, common symptoms to look out for, and practical tips on how to provide comfort and support throughout the process.

Common Cold in Babies

The common cold is a viral infection that primarily affects the nose and throat. During their first year, babies typically experience 6 to 8 colds, especially if they’re in daycare settings where they come into contact with other children frequently.

Due to their lack of previous exposure to viruses, babies do not have immunity. However, as they grow, their bodies gradually develop immunity, resulting in fewer colds over time.

1st year of babies life | The Milky Box

What Causes Colds in Babies?

Colds are caused by over 200 different viruses, that inflame the lining of the nose and throat. Rhinoviruses, including over 100 types, are responsible for up to half of all colds.

When a cold virus enters a baby’s body through the mouth, eyes, or nose, the baby typically becomes immune to that specific virus. However, since numerous viruses cause colds and some don’t confer lasting immunity, babies may experience multiple colds each year and throughout their lives.

Colds spread easily through the air when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or talk, releasing virus-containing droplets that can be inhaled by your baby.

Additionally, direct contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces, such as toys or household items, can also transmit the virus to your baby when they touch their eyes, nose, and mouth after coming into contact with it.

How colds spread | The Milky Box

Risk Factors

To protect your baby from colds, it’s important to be aware of the various risk factors involved.

Immature immune system: Babies have weaker immune systems compared to adults.

Exposure to other children: Being around children who may not practice good hygiene, like hand washing or covering coughs and sneezes, raises the risk of a baby catching a cold.

Hand-to-mouth contact: Babies often touch their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Seasonal factors: Respiratory illnesses, including colds, are more prevalent in fall and winter when babies spend more time indoors and are exposed to more germs. 

Additionally, the drop in humidity during these seasons can dry out nasal passages, making them more susceptible to infection.

Risk Factors | The Milky Box

Baby Cold Symptoms

Here are some ways your little one might show they’ve caught a cold:

● Nasal congestion or runny nose, initially clear but potentially thickening and changing color over time.

● Fever, as the body responds to the viral infection

● Sneezing and coughing

● Decreased appetite, as the baby may not feel like eating due to discomfort or congestion

● Irritability and fussiness, possibly due to discomfort or disrupted sleep patterns

● Difficulty sleeping, which can be caused by congestion, coughing, or general discomfort

● Trouble nursing or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion, making feeding challenging

● Occasionally, vomiting and diarrhea may occur

● Increased drooling due to a sore throat and difficulty swallowing

● Slightly swollen glands may be noticeable in some cases, indicating the body’s immune response to the infection.

Baby cold Symptoms | The Milky Box

Stages of a Cold in Babies

The ‘’three-day rule’’ or ‘’rule of threes’’ is a common guideline often discussed in parenting circles regarding the typical duration and progression of a baby’s cold. While not scientifically proven, many parents find it helpful as a general framework for understanding the stages of cold in infants. Here’s a breakdown of these stages: 

Three Days Coming

During the initial stage, symptoms such as fever, fussiness, decreased appetite, and runny nose are common, although not all babies will experience fever. The fever may indicate the body’s immune response to the virus, while fussiness and decreased appetite can be attributed to general discomfort and congestion.

Three Days Here

As the cold progresses, the fever typically subsides, and symptoms such as thicker mucus, coughing, and disrupted sleep patterns can become more prominent. Thicker mucus is often a sign of the body’s immune response as it works to clear the virus from the respiratory tract. Coughing may be triggered by irritation caused by postnasal drip or as a natural reflex to clear the airways.

Three Days Going

In the final stage of the cold, symptoms usually begin to improve as the body begins to recover. Mucus may become crusty as the baby’s immune system clears the infection, and eating habits often return to normal.

Rules of 3's | The Milky Box

How Long Did Your Baby's First Cold Last?

The typical duration of a baby’s cold and its associated symptoms varies, but generally, if there are no complications, it can last between 10 and 14 days. Fever may persist for 2–3 days, nasal drainage for 7–14 days, and cough for 2–3 weeks.

While most colds are merely bothersome, it’s crucial to treat your baby’s signs and symptoms with care. If symptoms persist without improvement or worsen, consulting your medical provider becomes necessary.

Cold Complications

Colds are typically not serious, with only about 5 to 10% of children experiencing complications, most commonly ear, sinus, or lung infections caused by bacteria, which require medical treatment. 

When to Call the Doctor for Baby Cold Symptoms

Here are the conditions and symptoms that indicate when to call the doctor for a baby's cold symptoms.

For babies under 3 months: Call the doctor at the first sign of a cold, especially if there’s a fever, to rule out serious illness. Do not administer fever medicine before being seen.

For babies 3 months or older: Call the doctor if your baby:

● Has signs of dehydration (isn’t wetting as many diapers as usual)

● Has a fever greater than 101 °F (38.4 °C) persisting beyond 3 days

● Exhibits ear pain or unusual irritability

● Develops red or discharging eyes

● Experiences breathing difficulties and wheezing

● Has persistent cough or nasal discharge lasting longer than specified durations

● Is a high-risk baby (chronic lung disease)

● Has a weakened immune system (specific medical conditions) or if symptoms worsen 

despite home care.

These signs might indicate a more severe condition than a common cold.

Immediately seek medical attention if your baby:

● Develops high fever accompanied by shaking or chills

● Refuses to nurse or drink fluids for an extended period

● Displays unusually low energy or excessive sleepiness

● Shows difficulty breathing or appears bluish around the lips

● Experiences severe coughing leading to vomiting or changes in skin color

● Coughs up mucus tinged with blood

How Can I Help Treat My Baby's Cold?

Colds do not have a “cure”. A healthy immune system will naturally combat and eliminate the virus over time, and there are no medications to speed up this process. However, there are effective ways to alleviate many symptoms and make your baby comfortable. 

The focus is on providing fluids, ensuring open nasal passages, and maintaining humid air. Very young infants must receive prompt medical attention at the first sign of a cold to rule out more serious conditions. 

Clearing a Baby’s Blocked Nose

To ensure clear nasal passages in babies, it’s crucial to first use saline drops, spray, or water to loosen dried music, as suctioning alone may not be effective with dry mucus. This is essential as babies cannot nurse or drink from a bottle if their nose is blocked.

After applying saline drops, gently suction each nostril using a bulb syringe, alternating between nostrils until the discharge clears. When using water, use distilled, bottled, or boiled tap water. Remember to squeeze the bulb syringe before putting it on your baby’s nose, and apply petroleum jelly to the skin under the nose to protect against irritation.

It’s recommended to limit nasal saline rinses to no more than four times daily, preferably before feedings. As babies grow, they may resist the suction bulb, but saline drops can still help.

Additionally, alternative methods like using a warm shower or wet cotton swab can aid in mucus removal.

Offer More Fluids

Aim to keep your child well hydrated, which also helps thin out mucus in the lungs and nose, making it easier for your child to breathe and cough up.

● Encourage your baby to drink extra breast milk or formula.

● For infants under six months, stick to breast milk or formula only.

● For babies six months and older, incorporate water into their diet.

● Avoid offering juice or other fluids unless recommended by a doctor.

Rules of 3's | The Milky Box

Using a Cool Mist Humidifier

If your home’s air is dry, use a humidifier because dry air thickens nasal mucus. Cool mist humidifiers are preferred over warm mist ones because the latter can lead to swelling of nasal passages, complicating breathing.

Remember to regularly clean your humidifier to prevent mold and bacteria growth. If you don’t have a humidifier, sitting in a steamy bathroom with your little one can help.

Drugstore Medicines for Colds

For fever or pain relief in infants, consider using acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always adhere to the dosage instructions on the packaging.

Avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) until the child is 3 months old and ibuprofen (Motrin) until the child is 6 months old. Refrain from giving ibuprofen to dehydrated children, those with asthma, and vomiting excessively.

● Aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but severe illness affecting the liver and brain.

● Consult your child’s healthcare provider before using any over-the-counter products. The FDA doesn’t approve over-the-counter cold or cough medications for those under 4 years old due to safety concerns and potential serious side effects. 

 This also refers to nasal decongestants; nasal saline is a safer and more effective option for relieving nasal congestion.

● Antibiotics are not effective for treating viral infections like colds. However, they may be prescribed if your child develops bacterial complications of a cold, such as sinus, ear, or lung infections. 

In such cases, it’s crucial to ensure they take the medication exactly as directed, even if they start to feel better. Stopping antibiotic treatment too soon could result in the infection worsening or spreading.

Rest and Environment

Rest is essential to allow the baby’s body to fight off the virus effectively. Ensure that your baby gets plenty of rest throughout the day.

It’s also important to ensure that the room your baby is in is well-ventilated, allowing for a steady flow of fresh air. This can help clear out any airborne germs and provide a more comfortable environment for your baby to breathe in.

How to treat a baby's cold | The Milky Box

Daycare Recommendations

Keep your baby home from daycare to prevent the spread of illness to other children and caregivers. Generally, children can return to daycare once their symptoms begin to improve, and they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Consult your qualified health professional for personalized advice on when it’s safe for them to resume daycare attendance. 

How to Prevent a Cold in Babies

To minimize the risk of your baby catching a cold, consider the following preventive measures:

● Shield your baby from sick individuals, especially in the first few months.

● Keep your baby well-nourished, especially through breastfeeding, to support their immune function and overall health.

● Prioritize hand-washing before handling or feeding your baby, using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers.

● Regularly clean your baby’s toys and surfaces, particularly during the cold season or if anyone in the household is unwell.

● Educate everyone in the household on proper cough and sneeze etiquette.

● Ensure your baby’s childcare facility upholds a high standard of hygiene.

● Ensure your baby receives all recommended vaccinations, which don’t protect against the common cold, but can help prevent its complications.

How to prevent a baby's cold | The Milky Box

Supporting Your Baby through Their First Cold

As you journey through the common experience of your baby's first cold, remember that each child is unique, and their response to the virus may differ. Although it can be heart-wrenching to see your little one under the weather, be assured that with proper care, most colds in babies usually resolve on their own within a couple of weeks.

At The Milky Box, we understand that the first years of a baby's life are critical in shaping their future health and development. That's why we're here to provide practical advice and high-quality organic nutrition to support your baby's growth and well-being. Our expert team is committed to helping you navigate the joys and challenges of parenthood with confidence and ease.


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10. Should You Give Kids Medicine for Coughs and Colds? | FDA. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/should-you-give-kids-medicine-coughs-and-colds


Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

Nazeli Gevorgyan is a medical doctor from Armenia, and is a researcher in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others. Dr. Nazeli is passionate with providing women and parents with reliable and high-quality information on healthy options for infant nutrition, breastfeeding, infant formula, and food. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, traveling, and pottery. 

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Reviewed by Suzanne Renee',

Infant Nutrition Expert

Suzanne Renee' is an accomplished professional with extensive expertise in the area of infant nutrition, dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of children. She started this journey as a foster parent.

Suzanne has emerged as a strong proponent of the European baby formula and has become a full-time writer on the subject. 

In her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking, and going to church.