The Signs of a Cold in Infants – Insight from Dr. Saad Saad


A baby will often get colds because their immune system is developing, but a cold is much rarer in a newborn. These colds can turn serious, so it’s important to see the pediatrician if there is any sign of high fever or other symptoms. Dr. Saad Saad, a noted pediatric surgeon based in New Jersey, advises that with a newborn, it’s best to call your doctor at the first sign of sickness to rule out more serious conditions.

Can you prevent colds in infants? Anxious parents or caregivers must realize it’s nearly impossible to prevent germs in the infant’s environment, and an occasional cold is normal for them just like it is for anyone. It’s best just to help your infant comfortable while the tiny body fights off the cold.

In this article, Dr. Saad Saad explains these early colds — the infant’s developing immune system, vulnerability to colds, and symptoms that signal a potentially serious condition that requires a doctor’s attention.

Baby’s immune system

A newborn still carries some immunity from their mothers for the first six months, so colds are less common in newborns, explains Dr. Saad. The infant’s own immune system starts developing very early. However, during this time the infant can be prone to viruses such as colds.

Because a cold is so rare in newborns, it can be a scary situation for a parent or caregiver. However, these non-threatening viruses are vital in helping the baby’s body learn to fight the viruses that cause the common cold.

Before their first birthdays, children usually have numerous colds. Certain symptoms will signal that it’s a cold instead of another condition that warrants a doctor’s attention. Treating these colds in a newborn or infant requires gentle care at home — but is generally not viewed as a serious situation.

Symptoms of a cold in a newborn

Some of the mother’s immunity will pass along to the newborn. However, this wears off at 6 months old, approximately, says Dr. Saad.

When a newborn has a cold, there may be excess nasal discharge that is runny and watery, which evolves into a thicker, yellowish-green discharge. The infant may also have a slight fever, another sign that the tiny body is fighting the infection. This is natural with a cold and does not indicate symptoms are worsening, he says.

Symptoms of a cold in newborns also include:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • irritability or fussing
  • red eyes
  • lack of appetite
  • trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • difficulty nursing due to a stuffy nose

Because these symptoms are also signs of croup and pneumonia, which are more serious, parents and caregivers should contact a doctor or specialist pediatrician if they see these symptoms. A doctor can perform a thorough diagnosis and alleviate worries.

Signs of a more serious condition

While many cold symptoms apply to multiple disorders, newborns with croup, flu, or pneumonia will often show additional symptoms, says Dr. Saad Saad.


An infant with croup has cold symptoms, but symptoms can quickly worsen. The baby may have a barking cough and difficulty breathing. Parents or caregivers may hear squeaking noises or a hoarse cough.


Along with typical cold symptoms, a newborn with flu may also develop a high fever along with diarrhea and vomiting. The infant with flu may also seem sicker than a cold, but this is not always true. The newborn will also be fussier due to these additional symptoms.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough, also referred to as pertussis, starts as a cold. However, symptoms can shift after a week or so. The baby may have a severe hacking cough that causes breathing problems.

A baby may take deep breaths after coughing, and in some this may sound like a whooping noise. However, the classic “whoop” sound is more typical in older children and adults. It’s actually relatively rare in infants.

More commonly, an infant with whooping cough will vomit after coughing. In more serious cases, the baby may turn blue briefly — or stop breathing.

Whooping cough is very serious and requires immediate medical attention, says Dr. Saad Saad.


Babies are at risk of a cold turning quickly into pneumonia. Because it can happen so quickly, it is critical to notify a pediatrician right away for a proper diagnosis.

Pneumonia symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • high fever
  • flushed skin
  • sweating
  • strong cough that worsens
  • abdominal sensitivity

Babies with pneumonia may have trouble breathing. They may breathe rapidly or have difficulty breathing.


In some cases, the baby’s lips or fingers may look blue, which is a signal they are not getting enough oxygen and need emergency medical attention.

Treatment for an infant’s cold

Dr. Saad Saad advises that most newborns only need comfort and gentle care to get over a cold. The baby’s immunity is developing, says Dr. Saad Saad, so parents and caregivers just need patience.

Over-the-counter cold medications are not safe for babies, as they do not work and can have serious side effects. A doctor may prescribe saline nasal drops for a baby’s stuffy nose. In some cases, the pediatrician may also discuss the possibility of using fever-reducing medication.

Home remedies

Home remedies can help babies get past their first colds, advises Dr. Saad Saad. In some cases, baby’s symptoms may take up to 2 weeks to disappear completely. These home remedies can help ease congestion and other symptoms:

Humidity: A small humidifier will moisten the baby’s crib area which can relieve congestion and help baby breathe better.

Steam: Holding baby in a steamy bathroom (with hot water running) can help loosen mucus. Just 10 or 15 minutes will help.

Clean nasal passages: Gently cleaning out a baby’s nose with a rubber syringe may help the baby breathe easier.

Hydration: Keep your baby well-fed and hydrated while they fight a cold. Fever and mucus can deplete electrolytes and liquids.

Rest: Give the baby extra time to rest during recovery. Avoid public places to avoid catching another virus.

Talk to your doctor if there is any worsening of symptoms.

Risks and prevention

While newborns get colds relatively rarely, an older baby or young child will be at greater risk, says Dr. Saad Saad. This is because their bodies have not yet developed resistance to the viruses that cause them. Exposure to older children — or being around people who smoke — can increase this risk in babies and young children.

Cold viruses are spread through the air and from contact with a person who has the virus. That virus-carrier may not have any cold symptoms so you may not realize your baby is at risk. The best way to reduce an infant’s risk of getting a cold is by reducing their exposure.

These include:

  • regular hand-washing before contact with the baby
  • avoiding sick people
  • avoiding anyone in contact with a sick person
  • avoiding crowds
  • avoiding secondhand smoke
  • cleaning all surfaces, including toys, regularly

Breastfeeding may help reduce incidence of colds in newborns and babies, says Dr. Saad Saad. With breast milk, the baby gets some of the mother’s antibodies. This won’t prevent all sicknesses but may help prevent some colds. The baby may be better able to fight off infections compared to formula-fed babies.

When to see a doctor

Baby having temperature taken for a fever
Detecting worse symptoms in an infant

Any time a newborn seems unwell, it is critical to speak with your doctor. A fever is a baby’s first defense a cold or another infection.

Call your doctor if your baby (under 3 months old) has a 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (°F). If baby is under 6 months old, a fever of 101°F would be a sign they need a doctor’s attention requires a doctor’s advice.

Whenever a newborn seems unwell, even if there is no fever, contact your doctor right away. Very young babies may not have a fever even in the face of serious infection.

In very young babies under 3 months, fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) would warrant a call to the doctor. Under 6 months, fever of 101°F would be a sign they need a doctor’s attention.

A young baby with a fever that persists for more than a few days, or one that goes away for a day or two but then returns, should be seen by a doctor.

See a doctor if any other unusual symptoms show up in the baby, says Dr. Saad Saad.

These include:

  • unusual cry or cough
  • trouble breathing normally
  • signs of physical pain or discomfort
  • trouble eating or refusing to eat
  • persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • dehydration
  • skin rashes

If your baby seems to be struggling or seems different in any way, contact your doctor right away. Even if you are uncertain about the symptoms, contact your doctor.

About Dr. Saad Saad

Pediatric Surgeon, Dr. Saad Saad
Pediatric Surgeon, Dr. Saad Saad

For the past 40 years, Dr. Saad Saad has performed thousands of complex pediatric surgeries on children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. Dr. Saad served as the Surgeon-in-Chief and the Co-Medical Director of K. Hovnanian Children Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Care System in New Jersey. In the 1980s, he was asked to serve as pediatric surgeon for the Saudi Royal family. He has participated in eight Medical Missions to Jerusalem to perform free complex surgeries on poor children.


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