The only thing worse than catching a winter cold or flu is seeing your child suffering from one, especially if they are fatigued. Thankfully, a little head or body massage goes a long way. And there are lots of other simple measures you can take to help them feel better and get back to playing and growing.
Cold aches and pains versus flu aches and pains
When your child gets a cold or flu, they may complain of muscle soreness. This achy feeling is the result of inflammation, which can occur as your little one's body tries to protect itself from harmful stimuli. Inflammation is a sign that the body is trying to heal itself, but in the meantime, it can be an uncomfortable time for your child.
Colds and the flu are different illnesses, and the aches-and-pains symptom more often accompanies the flu than it does the common cold. Indeed, one of the big differences between colds and flu is how much sicker the flu makes your child feel. Dr Dasha Fielder, a Bondi GP and a mum, says that when you have the flu, you feel like you’ve never been that sick before in your life.
“Flu is a lot more severe, and it can be so debilitating that people can't move, can't get out of bed,” says Fielder. As well as causing a higher temperature, one of the reasons the flu makes you feel so sick is the aches and pains it causes in your joints and muscles. “I often equate it to doing a long run or exercise session and how your muscles feel after that, and with flu, it affects all your muscles – from top to bottom.”
Both colds and the flu can also make you feel tired more quickly and see you sleeping for longer periods, but constant fatigue (lasting most of the day) is more likely to be a sign of the flu.
But there is one thing colds and the flu have in common: they can make your little one feel achy, miserable and irritable, and throw your plans for the day out the window.
Tender rubbing care
Caring for your child with a cold or the flu means trying to reduce the aches and pains that are making them uncomfortable. “Regardless of whether it's just a simple cold or an influenza, the best management is supportive management (relieving their symptoms),” advises Fielder.
Unlike adults, who should avoid massage until they are over their cold or flu (as it can spread illness through an adult body faster than it would left to its own devices, exacerbate symptoms and lengthen recovery time), babies can benefit from gentle massage when cold and flu season strikes. Massage is a soothing way to relieve your littlies' aches and to provide the TLC that makes them feel nurtured. It helps keep their blood and oxygen circulating, and skin-to-skin contact with your child has numerous health benefits, including helping to keep babies' temperature, heart rate and breathing rate at normal levels.
From head to toe
First, find a warm, quiet place, and place your baby on their back. Then start your massage, working from your baby's head to their feet, with these tips:
- Gently rub the forehead and temples, followed by softly touching the eyebrows and eyelids
- Work your way down to their nose, cheeks and ears
- Using your index finger and thumb and starting at the baby's armpit, circle their arms one by one and again, work your way down to their hands, taking extra care at the elbows
- Move to the tummy area, and lightly circle the baby's tummy with the palms of your hands
- Turn the baby onto their tummy, and with your fingertips, softly stroke their shoulders and back in a circular motion
- Starting at the thigh and working down to the foot, gently rub each leg
- When you get to the feet, start with the toes, applying slight pressure to each toe
- Finish by pressing gently – again with circular motions – on the heels.
What else can you do?
1. Try an analgesic
To reduce their fever symptoms as well as their aches and pains, Fielder suggests also using an analgesic. “You can use an agent such as ibuprofen, which is very effective for adults and children, or an alternative.” For young children with a cold or flu, she says she particularly likes to use the analgesic before bed to help them (and you!) have a more comfortable night’s sleep.
2. Keep 'em hydrated
Your child might not have much appetite, but don’t worry – it’s normal. “I reassure parents that even if they don't eat for two or three days, that's not a major issue as long as their fluids are up,” explains Fielder. Though if you are concerned, it's best to contact your healthcare professional. Water is the best choice, but diluted juice (one part juice to three parts water) provides a bit of sugar and is great for rehydration. Warm milk can also be soothing and provide vital liquids.
3. Breastfeed babies more frequently, if necessary
Breastfed babies may seek comfort by feeding more frequently. It’s helpful to feed on demand rather than stick to a schedule while bub is battling the cold or flu.
When do you need to see a doctor?
See your GP if you’re worried or if your child:
- Won’t drink.
- Vomits a lot.
- Has a bad headache.
- Is pale and sleepy.
- Is extremely unsettled.
- Has trouble breathing.
When your little one is suffering from aches and pains from a cold or the flu, it affects you both. Body aches and other cold and flu symptoms make daily activities that little bit harder. But with a loving massage, plenty of time to rest, and fast and effective pain relief, they’ll soon get back to living their lives.
*If you give your child Nurofen for Children, always read the label. Use only as directed. Incorrect use could be harmful. Consult your healthcare professional if symptoms persist. Do not give to babies under 3 months. Seek medical advice for children less than 1 year.
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.
Always read the label. Use only as directed. Incorrect use could be harmful. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional.