Winter is well and truly here! I've been busy online searching for tips and strategies to help my little ones get through winter with fewer colds and illnesses.
I found this wonderful article by Nicky Dewe in the Little Treasures magazine that provides a really good overview of the A to Z of winter bugs and also includes strategies that can help us keep our little ones healthy through winter. I really wanted to share it with you and hope it helps you and your family to get through the winter season.
Here's Nicky's article - The A to Z of winter bugs
Antibiotics are prescribed to kill off bacteria that cause infections such as persistent earache, strep throat or bacterial pneumonia, but won’t be helpful if your child has a viral infection like a cold or the flu. It is important not to take antibiotics for viruses or minor infections that will clear up without treatment as overuse can cause some bacteria to become resistant and may also mean your child needs to take increasingly stronger doses when they do have a bacterial infection. Taking the full course of antibiotics once you’ve started is also crucial for ensuring the bacteria has been thoroughly killed off – even if your child is already feeling better. Many antibiotics for children need to be kept refrigerated so check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Sometimes distraction is the only option for little people who are under the weather and waiting for a bug to pass. Cuddle up under a blanket and listen to some talking books (available from libraries) or create a change of scene by building a fort out of upturned chairs with sheets over the top, then lay down some cushions and sit inside reading stories. For those who are well and need to burn some energy try musical statues, Simon Says or hide ‘treasure’ around the house and give them clues to follow.
If you do get a break in the weather then have jackets and gumboots handy so you can head out quickly for some puddle stomping.
There are over 200 viruses that can cause a cold and with new ones developing every year it is impossible for children to become completely resistant. Cold symptoms can come on very quickly in children and include a runny nose, sneezing, fatigue, a cough, sore throat and sometimes fever. Colds are not usually dangerous in healthy children, though extra care should be taken with newborns. Germs are mostly spread through hand-to-hand contact so the best way to protect your child is through teaching them about hand-washing (around 20 seconds with soapy water to get rid of germs) and thorough drying afterwards. Encouraging older toddlers to blow their nose into tissues and cover their mouth when sneezing and coughing also helps slow the spread.
Diarrhoea is most likely the result of a gastrointestinal infection caused by bacteria or parasites. It’s very common in childhood and usually only lasts for a few days. The primary issue for a child with diarrhoea is the loss of fluid so monitor for signs of dehydration. In babies, this includes no wet nappies over several hours and a dry mouth and lips, lethargy or a sunken fontanel. If you think your baby may be dehydrated see a doctor immediately. For older children consider using an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, which can provide necessary electrolytes that plain water doesn’t have. Get them to take small sips rather than gulps. If the diarrhoea persists for several weeks it is worth investigating for food allergies, lactose intolerance, or diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Children who suffer from eczema (red, irritated skin) often have a parent or family member with hay fever, asthma or other allergies. It is believed to be genetic. Eczema can be triggered by lots of things (including dust, pollen, mould, harsh soaps or detergents and certain foods). Cooler winter temperatures can also exacerbate the problem so keeping skin moisturised with gentle, hypo-allergenic lotions or ointments will help. Have warm rather than hot baths and look for a gentle, hypo-allergenic soap for kids that helps create a barrier to protect the skin rather than a harsher soap that will actually strip the skin of moisture.
If your child has a temperature above 38 degrees, this is considered a fever.
The most common cause of a fever in kids is an infection of some sort and the increased temperature is the body’s way of fighting the infection. Although it can be distressing to have a child with a fever, it is not considered life-threatening unless it is extremely and persistently high (above 41.6 degrees). Using a children’s painkiller that has been prescribed by your doctor and administered at the correct dosage should help lower their temperature. See your doctor if: your child is under six months of age, or the fever cannot be controlled, or you suspect dehydration.
Models Deacon Harrison. Photography Wendy Fenwick/Flash Studios.
There isn’t much you can do for a child with gastroenteritis except keep them comfortable and wait for the bug to work its way through their system. Take extra care about hygiene in your home at this time, particularly in the bathroom and toilet by wiping down door handles, light switches and the toilet flush button with antibacterial wipes or cleaners. See Diarrhoea for advice on dehydration.
Heating your home
It is important to keep your home warm and dry during the winter months for the health of your family, but heaters come with some obvious risks too. Anything that is hot to touch produces excessive heat, or can be knocked over is problematic with kids about. Having a heater that is installed out of your children’s reach is a good solution, or use a fire guard that is a safe distance from the heater. A dehumidifier can also help rid your home of damp and mould that can contribute to respiratory illnesses, allergic reactions and infection.
Protecting yourself and your children against the flu this winter by having a flu vaccine is highly recommended by the Ministry of Health. The flu vaccine has been deemed safe for children over six months and is free until 31 July for high-risk groups such as pregnant women (who are at greater risk of complications due to the flu) as well as adults and children who have medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes. Parents should consider the importance of protecting themselves so that they can keep caring for their children if illness does strike the family.
A vitamin supplement or immunity booster for parents is also a good way to ward off illness.
New research has shown that among those who have already been exposed to a cold virus, those who get physically cold are more likely to develop actual cold symptoms than those who don’t. Kids often won’t say if they’re cold, particularly if it means they miss out on playing outside so find a jacket that they’ll wear and make putting it on part of the leaving-the-house routine.
Keep calm – tips for de-stressing when you’re all stuck indoors
If it’s safe to leave the room, remove yourself from the stressful situation and take some slow, deep breaths and clench and unclench your muscles until your body starts to feel more relaxed.
Remember that though it might seem like your toddler is trying to wind you up, they aren’t capable yet of understanding how their actions affect others.
Be kind to yourself and say something positive like: “This is a hard job and I’m doing the best I can”.
Schedule some downtime for yourself at least once a week – it’s not a luxury, it’s important for your whole family that you are taking good care of yourself.
Asthma – the inflammation of the lungs and airways – can be exacerbated during winter by cooler temperatures and when colds and other respiratory infections are rife. If your child sufferers from asthma then be extra vigilant about ensuring they have their inhaler with them at all times or if a child with asthma is visiting check with their parents that they have brought theirs.
Children under five are particularly at risk of this dangerous disease – which is caused by an infection of the membranes that cover the brain – and can become life-threatening very rapidly. The complicating thing about this illness is that its symptoms are similar to that of the flu. Some early signs are: a high temperature, very stiff joints, very cold hands and feet, mottled or pale skin and sleepiness. Children who can talk may complain of a sore neck or extreme sensitivity to light. Babies may cry in a high-pitched whimpering tone but not want to be touched. Not all children experience all of these symptoms, however, and if you’re at all concerned get medical attention immediately. One of the advanced symptoms is a rash that doesn’t disappear when you roll a glass over it – at this point you should call 111.
Treatment is with antibiotics.
While no food has been scientifically proven to ward off the lurgy, a nutritious diet will help to maintain all round good health. Some of the best seasonal treats are pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, kumara, beetroot, kale, spinach, mushrooms, citrus fruit, kiwifruit and apples. Often we crave carb-heavy comfort foods in winter but choosing the right carbs is important. Opt for unprocessed ones like wholegrain breads, oats, brown rice instead of white, beans, legumes and leafy, fibrous veggies. Make mashed potato a treat option and go for pumpkin and kumara at other times.
Cold and flu remedies can be a godsend for parents who need to keep on functioning even while under the weather. Be aware that most over-the-counter cold and flu remedies are not safe for children under six though and many are not recommended for children under 12.
The two main options for kids who are in pain or who have a high temperature are paracetamol or ibuprofen. Paracetamol should be used in the first instance. If there is no improvement with paracetamol then Ibuprofen can be considered although it is not recommended for children under six months (and shouldn’t be used for babies under 12 months without a doctor's advice). Ibuprofen is best taken after food as it can cause nausea in some children. If you think your child may be dehydrated due to diarrhoea or vomiting avoid ibuprofen. You should also talk to your doctor before using ibuprofen if your child is asthmatic. Aspirin is not safe for kids under 16.
While there’s nothing much you can do to make your child’s cold pass more rapidly there are a few quick and simple techniques for relieving symptoms:
Elevating your child’s cot at the end they sleep at to create a 30-40 degree angle may help them breathe more easily if they are congested. It can also ease the pain of ear infections.
Saline drops squirted into the nose can help clear the sinuses.
To loosen mucus in the chest try sitting with the baby in a steamy bathroom.
Add some decongestant oil to a vaporizer or humidifier or sprinkle a few drops on the baby’s sheets or your child’s hanky to soothe the sinuses.
Use a bulb syringe or a nasal aspirator to suck out mucus for little ones who aren’t old enough to blow their noses.
Honey (only safe for children one year and older) can help soothe and coat the throat. It can be mixed with warm water and then served once it’s a safe drinking temperature, or given on a teaspoon.
Rotavirus is more common in winter and generally affects children between six months and two years of age. The primary symptoms are watery diarrhoea and vomiting and it is spread by contact with the faeces of an infected person so thorough hand-washing after going to the toilet or changing nappies can help prevent it going further. An oral vaccine is available from your doctor at cost and the first dose must be received by 15 weeks of age. The most important thing is to prevent dehydration; see Diarrhoea for signs and treatment.
Affective Disorder (SAD)SAD is a type of depression that strikes at a particular time of year, usually during the winter. It has many of the same symptoms as other forms of depression such as feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, social withdrawal, unhappiness and irritability but can also include increased appetite with weight gain and increased sleep. Being aware of the onset of symptoms is important so you can get help before they worsen. Treatment options are the same as for other forms of depression (e.g. antidepressant medication as prescribed by a doctor or some form of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy). Some people find that spending a little time sitting under a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics light from the sun can help. It’s best to follow your doctor’s advice on this.
A common ailment in childhood, tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils (fleshy clusters at the back of the throat) that become large and red with a yellow or white coating. Symptoms include a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing. Tonsillitis is contagious and can be caused either by a virus, in which case the body will fight it off on its own, or strep bacteria when antibiotics are prescribed. Kids with tonsillitis will need lots of rest, lots of liquids and soft food if swallowing is painful. For kids who get it repeatedly a tonsillectomy may be required.
As the spread of viruses increases over the winter months so too can come secondary problems such as mouth ulcers. They often occur after your child has been ill but can also be caused by stress and tiredness, the herpes virus, or hand, foot and mouth disease. Ulcers are tiny breaks in the lining of the mouth or on the tongue that appear as round, white sores and can be particularly painful when eating. They usually clear up on their own but if your child is old enough you can try getting them to gargle with salt water.
Ideally, kids should get their vitamins through their diet rather than via supplements. Aim for lots of variety in what they eat. If your child is a fussy eater who is missing out on some important food groups, or is on a vegetarian or dairy-free diet, talk to a doctor or pharmacist about whether they might need a boost. Children over two can take supplements but make sure they are child-specific and follow the dosage instructions.
The medical name for this is pertussis. It is the result of an infection in the respiratory system. Early symptoms are similar to a cold (runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, slight fever) but they develop into regular coughing spells with a ‘whooping’ sound when the person inhales. It is highly infectious with sufferers at their most contagious during the early stages. Babies in New Zealand can be immunised against whooping cough for free but are not fully protected until they’ve had three doses, given at six weeks, three months and five months old. Booster shots are given at four and 11 years. If you think anyone in your family may have it, see your doctor as soon as possible.
The good news is that you actually burn more kilojoules exercising in cold weather. If you’re heading out for a run, remember to take extra time to stretch first as it can take longer for muscles to warm up in cold weather.
Seize the chance to get the kids down to the park to kick a ball around, play tag or have running races. Kids need daily opportunities to burn up energy. Exercise produces feel-good endorphins which boost everyone’s mood and morale.
Giving yourself a little TLC will help you feel good in winter too. The harsher outdoor climate and the use of heaters indoors can take a toll on your skin so try using a gentle exfoliant in the shower once a week to slough away dead skin cells and upgrade your summer moisturiser to something richer that is oil rather than water-based. A nice soak in the bath can be good for the soul but don’t make the water too hot as this can be drying. Add a few drops of oil such as almond or jojoba. New research says that wrapping yourself in a lovely soft blanket can actually improve your mood. The reason this works is that contact with soft things shifts brain wave activity from the right – which produces negative emotions – to the left, which promotes positive feelings.
Zzzz, getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for staying healthy and keeping immune systems strong. A bonus of winter is that kids are often more willing to go to bed on time when it’s dark outside. Newborns sleep 18-20 hours in a 24-hour period and around 16 hours from four weeks old. From three to six months your baby will need 15-16 hours of sleep (this includes three daytime naps). Babies aged six to 12 months need 10-12 hours sleep at night plus two naps a day. Between one and two years old most little ones drop down to one nap, and between two and three years many children drop their day nap altogether, sleeping 12 to 13 hours a night.
The optimum amount of sleep for adults is eight hours though this is wishful thinking for most new mums. If getting enough sleep at night isn’t possible, shelve other tasks and take naps when baby does. Even 15 or 20 minutes can help. If you’re really struggling with sleep deprivation then for safety’s sake get some help from a friend, relative or childcare provider.
From the team at Talented Tots Childcare Centres we wish you a winter of wellness. If you would like to talk to us about your child's health we are always here to listen and help xxx