Nobody likes being sick, and we don’t like seeing others get sick either. When you’re at work and someone comes in coughing and sneezing, you steer clear and hope you don’t catch the bug. As a parent, my thoughts were always on ‘when will my daughter get sick’ and ‘how to prevent them from getting sick’, or ‘can newborns get sick?’ Especially when I started seeing other babies fall ill. After getting about 9 months in, my daughter had been illness free, and I was thinking to myself that she must have some superhuman immune system and we’ll be in the clear by her 1st birthday. And then, it happened. She attended a birthday party, picked up a bug, and the cycle started. As I write this now, our daughter is 1 year and 1 month old, and I think we are in the clear. Our ‘sickness cycle’ lasted 4 months (edit: the day I wrote this, my daughter got sick again, so the cycle continues), and hearing other parents stories, ours was a short cycle!
Sharing Is Caring
As I mentioned, our 4 month cycle was quite tame in comparison to other stories I have heard, but within this space of time it was quite amazing how many times our daughter caught some new bug. Our cycle of illness went like this:
- Hand, foot and mouth
- A cold and cough (caught about 4-5 times throughout this period)
- Various rashes/viral infections
- Throat infection
- Stomach bugs
As many parents know, it is hard to prevent your little one from getting sick, and equally as hard to prevent yourself from getting sick. Naturally, my wife and I came down with almost all the same bugs as her, one getting sick while the other recovered, only to swap over again. What made it harder during this period was that my wife was returning to work and we were putting our daughter in day care. I was running low on sick leave and it was hard to decide what to do – do I take the leave to care for my wife and daughter, or do I save it for when I’m sick? Does my wife go to work and stay home? or does she call in sick on her first week? Difficult decisions to make, during a time where mentally and physically we didn’t have the energy to make clear decisions.
It Ain’t Fun Being A Sick Parent
Honestly, I don’t even know how we did it. I’m used to getting sick, but like mild colds that last a few weeks. This time round, I was getting full blown fevers with the chills, vomiting (aside from getting Bali belly a few years ago, I hadn’t really vomited since my clubbing days), diarrhea and a throat infection that made all my food taste off. My wife on the other hand rarely ever gets sick, and she had come down with the same as me, which was a major shock! We knew her immune system was good, and I presumed mine would be advanced enough to deal with some kids cold, but we definitely underestimated the bugs out there.
In our case, we were lucky that we played tag team with the sickness, passing it back and forth so only one of us was really sick at any one time. The other was still sick, but they were functioning sick so able to be in parent mode. Nonetheless, you quickly realise that as a parent, falling sick no longer means a day off, binge watching Netflix, taking your time to eat and be catered on by your partner. Now, it means you pop as many cold and flu tablets as possible (don’t literally do this without talking to your doctor first), to get you slightly functioning, so you can make sure that your child is being looked after. It means that you rush to eat, or go without food, because making something to eat means you need to leave your child, which could result in an unstoppable cry.
I used to enjoy my sick days, now they just aren’t as fun.
Riding Out The Storm
So how’d we get through the storm? As mentioned earlier, we were fortunate to be able to tag team our parenting responsibilities most of the time, so at least one of us was able to get some form of rest. When my wife was really unwell, I’d take carers leave to look after her and our daughter (I know not all families are fortunate to have this option available). And there was a lot of painkillers to help manage the symptoms, even if only for a few hours.
The other thing we used, was the TV. Now I know that babies shouldn’t have much screen time and all the research behind it, but seriously, when your baby is getting fussy because they are unwell, holding them doesn’t keep them settled, and they are too sick to walk around and play, TV becomes your best friend. Add to this you are also feeling unwell and aren’t able to do much yourself, then laying down and watching TV with your baby becomes the shining light in the storm. So don’t feel bad if you use the TV to get through the day, sometimes you have to!
But most importantly, what really helped us through was supporting one another and communicating our needs. We were both sick, we were stuck in the same situation together, so my wife understood what I was feeling and I understood what she was feeling. As much as I would feel like going back to bed, I had to remember that my wife was in the same boat, and so we would chat about how we would manage the day. Did my wife need the sleep in that day or did I? Who would do most of the entertaining of our daughter, and who would do all the behind the scenes work like food prep for the family? Although we both didn’t want to do anything but rest, but splitting the tasks and communicating how we were that day, we at least were able to ride out this storm.
How To Prevent From Getting Sick
So naturally, during this time, we started searching everything to do with preventative measures to stop our daughter from getting sick. And, being completely honest, there isn’t much you can do to prevent a baby from getting sick, other than total isolation from the world. Some sites talk about how immunity builds through breastfeeding, others recommend to feed baby certain foods to help immunity once they are on solids. And sure, these things do help, but ultimately come the time where baby begins to heavily interact with other kids (daycare, play centres, birthday parties), and the flu season comes around and other kids begin to have snotty noses, your child is probably going to fall ill.
But that isn’t a bad thing. An older article from WebMD in 2002 references a study that showed that children exposed to colds and bugs in daycare at an early age have a stronger immune system in later years. A more recent article on the Australian ABC website, while indicating that studies to date need to be interpreted with caution, does reinforce the message that ultimately exposure to illness builds a child’s immune system.
While it’s a good thing in the long term, unfortunately there is no magic preventative to stop our kids from getting sick. The best thing to do is stick to the tried and true methods of:
- Wash your hands and baby’s hands regularly, particularly if soiled or after touching things that other sick kids have touched.
- Clean baby’s toys, comforters and sleeping gear regularly.
- Cover your own face when you sneeze or cough. Even if baby can’t do this, you doing this behaviour models what to do, which baby will mimic when they are older.
- Wipe up baby’s face of mucus. (A warm moist cloth was what my daughter liked most, but we used trusty old wet wipes if we hadn’t prepped this or were out and about.)
- Plenty of rest for baby (and you try to get your 5 minutes when you can).
- Baby paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve symptoms (chat to your doctor if you have concerns).
- For older babies, try a Vicks steamer or similar at night, to help relieve congestion (our daughter started sleeping well again when she had congestion once we began using this).
- Plenty of fluids for baby, and food if they still have their appetite.
- Chat to your doctor if you have any concerns, and don’t feel like you are being an over-worried parent. It’s always better to play it safe if you’re unsure.
The Sunshine Through The Clouds
If, like in our situation, your baby doesn’t get sick until they are a bit older, you probably realise that the early years of parenting is like a rollercoaster, constant up and downs, and just when you think you are about to get a break you head around that rollercoaster all over again. But there were moments in the 4 months of sickness where things were good. My daughter was playful, my wife and I were well enough to enjoy ourselves, we even managed to throw our daughter her 1st birthday party during that time. With most of parenting, it seems to be about finding the light through the clouds. And considering that most times it is winter that brings on all the bugs and sickness, if you can ride it out until the warmer weather, the literal sunshine will make things better.
Always seek medical advice if you are concerned about you or your child’s presenting symptoms.