Keeping Baby Hale and Hearty (cont.)

"In those early weeks, their bodies don't respond as efficiently as they will when they get to be 3 to 6 months of age," says Dr. Lillian Blackmon, associate professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy's committee on fetuses and newborns.

Even the common cold can be tough on infants since they breathe only through their noses during the first few months and can't cough to clear mucus from the backs of their throats. Their airways are smaller, too. "They get into a lot of distress," says Dr. Blackmon. "They'll be irritable, they won't feed well, they'll cry, and they won't sleep very well."

Avoiding the 'Day-care Flu'

Parents can do a lot to stave off illnesses. "Number one, wash your hands a lot because that's one of the major ways that things are transmitted," says Dr. William Kanto, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia and another AAP member of the fetus and newborn committee.

Other popular pediatrician tips:

  • Stay current on immunizations
  • Keep infants, especially under 3 months, away from adults and children who are sick
  • Avoid crowded grocery stores, malls and other public places
  • Choose child care carefully

If you have to send your little one to child care, try to find a situation that minimizes the risks -- not an easy task, since even the best day-care facilities, with the most conscientious staffs, can be awash in germs.

It will also help to limit the number of day-care providers you use: Find a good day care and stick with it, and select a place that separates infants from other children. "Think about whether this will be a family day care with a few children or a large day care," advises Blackmon, "because every time you expand the number of families, you expand the infection risk."

Worried? Call the Doc

The most common illnesses babies get during the first year of life are colds and upper respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal viruses and ear infections. Most will come down with about six illnesses with fever in the first year, says Dr. Kanto. Those born in the winter, when germs breed indoors, or who live with smokers or toddlers tend to get sick more often.

New parents often have difficulty judging when to call the doctor, but most doctors say it's better to be safe than sorry, and many offices offer call-in times or nurse practitioners to discuss concerns.

Dr. Blackmon tells new parents to call her if their baby:

  • Has a fever, particularly over 100.2 degrees, or a temperature below normal
  • Won't eat
  • Is listless and lethargic
  • Cries continuously
  • Coughs
  • Has loose stools or stools mixed with mucus or blood
  • Vomits most of what he's just eaten