When my daughter started daycare at 11 months old, it took exactly three days before she got sick. Cold after relentless cold followed. Fevers. Ear infections. Hand foot and mouth disease. Mysterious stomach bugs. Our family had never been more ill. Sadly, germs and daycare seem to go hand in hand.
Our pediatrician told us we could expect more than a dozen colds that year, but we soon lost count; it became hard to distinguish when one illness ended and the next began. Our doctor and veteran parents assured us all of this exposure to illness was only making our baby’s immune system stronger — but there were many nights we listened helplessly as she coughed in her crib.
Parents with young children in group settings unfortunately can expect much of the same: a litany of colds, flu, strep throat, stomach bugs, pink eye and infections you may never have heard of before with names like RSV, roseola, hand foot and mouth disease and parvovirus.
Here’s what you can do:
Minimize the spread of daycare germs
- Wash hands frequently: I know, we’ve heard it all before, but hand washing truly is underrated. Studies show that washing hands for at least 15 seconds reduces bacteria by about 90%. In my house, we go a step further, and get my daughter into the bath as soon as she gets home to wash away those daycare germs. And while we do use hand sanitizer when there’s not a sink nearby, the CDC says there’s no adequate substitute for soap and water; hand sanitizers do not kill flu germs, or those that cause ebola, MRSA and norovirus.
- Disinfect surfaces: Germs can live not only on our hands and skin, but on inanimate objects as well. I keep disinfecting wipes in each room of my house, and use them liberally. But with a bevy of cleaning products available, which ones are best? Business Insider breaks down the most effective products on the market, including those for laundry and non washable goods.
- Keep your child home with a fever: Daycare centers and preschools typically mandate that children with a fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Follow this simple rule, and you’ll help minimize the spread of daycare germs.
Ease cough and congestion by…
- Using a cool-mist humidifier: Research suggests that using a humidifier, which adds moisture to the air, can relieve symptoms such as a runny nose and sinus congestion. I have noticed a marked difference in the severity of my own cough when I use a humidifier at night versus nothing at all.
- Purchasing saline nose wipes: Saline nose wipes like Boogie Wipes are gentler on little noses than tissues, and saline helps break up mucus that might be in your child’s nose.
- Steaming up the bathroom: Run the shower with hot water, then bring your child into the bathroom for about 10 minutes to help with congestion.
- Pairing saline drops with a nasal bulb syringe: Since babies are unable to blow their noses on their own, use saline spray (2-3 sprays per nostril) to thin and loosen mucus. Then insert a nasal bulb syringe into your baby’s nostril, squeeze and release the bulb, and remove it from baby’s nose. After emptying, repeat with the other nostril.
- Just a spoonful of honey (but only for children over a year old): Since cough suppressants aren’t recommended for young children, honey might be a good alternative — and some pediatricians say it works at least as well as over-the-counter medicine. Research has shown that children ages one to five who received two spoonfuls of honey before bed to ease nighttime coughing experienced less coughing and slept better than those without it.
- Using Vicks VapoRub (for children over two years old): For children over two, Vicks VapoRub may provide some relief of congestion and cough. Our pediatrician recommended rubbing it on our daughter’s feet before bed. It also can be used on your child’s chest, but avoid putting it on any area of the body where it might be ingested or come into direct contact with the nasal passages. (In other words, keep away from your child’s fingers too!)
- Elevating crib mattress: You also can try slightly elevating the mattress of your child’s crib (where your child generally keeps his or her head) with a firm pillow, blanket or towel placed between the mattress and crib.
- Try children’s ibuprofen or acetaminophen (check with your doctor for dosage) to help bring down a fever if your baby is over six months old. You may be able to alternate these medications, and use both if necessary.
- For older babies and toddlers, doctors often say to worry less about whether your child has a fever, and instead to focus on his or her behavior. Is your child sluggish, breathing heavily, and/or have a poor appetite? Those are signs to monitor in conjunction with the number on the thermometer.
- Fevers should resolve within a week, and are considered unusual if they last longer than five or six days. For lingering fevers, your pediatrician may want to test for pneumonia, urinary tract infections or other potential causes. Ear infections also can cause a fever, and may need to be treated with antibiotics.
If using antibiotics…
- Supplement with probiotics: Antibiotics might cause side effects such as stomach discomfort and diarrhea. There are a variety of probiotic products on the market for babies and kids that come in either drop or powder form, and are thought to improve flora in the gut.
For stomach viruses…
- Make sure to keep your child hydrated: While stomach viruses are undoubtedly unpleasant, the most dangerous consequence of a tummy bug is dehydration. Keep Pedialyte or another rehydration solution in the house to replace lost nutrients.
- Stick with the BRAT diet: Keep the menu simple; bananas, rice, applesauce and toast are all easily digested. But if your child is still throwing up or has no appetite, keep your focus on staying hydrated versus eating solid foods.
- Keep gloves and face mask on hand to use when cleaning messes and changing diapers.
- Clean with bleach: Simple disinfecting wipes or sprays won’t kill nasty stomach viruses like the norovirus, which can live on surfaces for over a month. Instead, use a bleach solution or a sanitizing wipe with bleach to do the dirty work.
Visit the doctor
- Your doctor’s office is likely your best resources for questions about germs and daycare; they’ve seen it all, and they’re in the best position to diagnose an illness, listen to a cough, or calm an anxious parent.