Mild illnesses like colds, gastro, conjunctivitis and ear infections are part of childhood. There’s not a lot you can do to help your child avoid them altogether. So it’s good idea to make the most of preventive measures – like immunisation and hygiene – to keep your child clean, healthy and happy.
If you’re ever worried about your child’s health, don’t be embarrassed about talking to your GP or child and family health nurse.
Fever and illness
A child’s average body temperature is about 37°C. If your child’s temperature is higher than 38°C, he probably has a fever. A fever isn’t an illness in itself – it’s the sign of an illness. Infections from viruses and bacteria are the most common causes of fever in children.
Using a thermometer is the best way to check your child’s temperature.
In children under 12 months, fever might be a sign of a serious illness, and you do need to seek medical advice. Babies under three months of age who develop a fever must be seen by a doctor immediately, because it’s harder to tell if they have a serious underlying illness.
Recognising serious illnesses in babies and young children can be hard, because the early signs of many childhood illnesses look similar.
If you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, call 000 and ask for an ambulance:
- high-pitched, weak or continuous crying
- difficulty breathing or unusual breathing
- pale, mottled or blue skin
- fits or seizures
- a rash that doesn’t fade after you press the child’s skin.
If you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, take your child to the nearest emergency department:
- high temperature above 38°C in babies less than three months old
- poor urine output
- poor feeding
- frequent vomiting.
Immunisation helps to protect your child from infectious diseases. It’s one of the best ways of improving your child’s health and wellbeing and stopping diseases from spreading in your community.
The Australian National Immunisation Program recommends and funds immunisation against 13 diseases for Australian children aged 0-4 years. You can be confident that the vaccines used in your child’s immunisations are safe.
Children’s small bodies need medications that have been specifically designed for their size and their needs. Whenever you give your child medication, you need to check the dosage carefully. And always store medicines out of your child’s reach.
It’s recommended that you see a doctor before giving a baby under six months any medication.
It’s important not to give fever-lowering medication too often or for prolonged periods, because it can cause side effects. Giving your child more than the recommended dose of paracetamol can cause liver damage. Aspirin can be fatal for children and should never be given for any reason.
Hygiene is about keeping germs away from places where they can spread or cause infection. Your baby relies on you for this in the early months. As he gets older, you can help him learn the basics of good hygiene.
At this age you can start teaching your child to:
- wash his hands before eating, after going to the toilet, and after touching animals or dirty things
- cover his mouth with a tissue (or his sleeve or elbow) when he sneezes or coughs – and then wash his hands
- blow his nose when it’s blocked
- wipe his bottom after he’s gone to the toilet, and wash himself gently in the bath or shower (girls should wipe and wash from front to back to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections).
Teeth and dental care
First teeth usually appear between six and ten months, and as early as three months.
Many people think that when babies are ‘teething’ they show signs like crankiness or not feeding as well as usual. These signs might be caused by teething – or they might just be a normal part of development or a result of minor infections and illnesses.
You can start cleaning and caring for your baby’s gums well before the first tooth appears. A couple of times a day – morning and night – wipe his gums gently using a clean, damp face washer or gauze. When teeth arrive, clean them by wiping them front and back with the face washer or gauze. Or you could use a toothbrush designed for children under two years and a little bit of water.
When your child is 18 months old, you can start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on a toothbrush. As well as regular brushing, help your child avoid tooth decay by making sure he goes easy on sugary food and drink, drinks plenty of tap water, and sees the dentist for regular check-ups.
Keep your child safe in the sun and prevent sunburn by:
- slipping on protective clothing
- slopping on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
- slapping on a broad-brimmed hat
- seeking shade
- sliding on wraparound sunglasses.