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Baby Health A-Z: Hand, Foot and Mouth

Hand, Foot and Mouth

If your baby’s been refusing feeds and you spy odd-shaped blisters on his hands you might be dealing with this common but painful complaint.

What is Hand, Foot and Mouth?

Hand, foot and mouth is caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses and gets its name from the little sores that appear on your baby’s hands, feet and in their mouths. It’s not dangerous but can be very uncomfortable. Since it’s contracted via droplets excreted when an infected person coughs or sneezes; saliva or faeces it’s easy to see why it spreads so quickly at playgroups and nurseries. 

What are the symptoms?

‘Three to five days after infection your baby will show cold-like symptoms, a cough, high temperature and occasionally vomiting,’ explains Dr Sarah Temple, expert GP for The Essential Parent Company (

‘This is quickly followed by mouth ulcers which start small and get bigger and 2-5mm ‘rugby ball’ shaped fluid-filled sacs which develop on their fingers and palms and the soles of their feet. They may spread up the back of the legs to the genitals. They’re not itchy but can be sore. All symptoms should clear up within 10 days.’

What can you do? 

Feeding with nasty ulcers can be really painful so offer young babies smaller and more frequent feeds (formula fed babies can have extra water too). 

‘If your child’s weaning give them soft food like mash potato or yogurt but don’t worry too much if they won’t take it. It’s more important they drink,’ Dr Temple advises.

Teething gel can offer relief and paracetamol or ibuprofen will ease the pain and bring their temperature down. 

When to see your GP

You will need to see your GP if your child refuses to drink fluids because of the risk of dehydration. Symptoms include a sunken soft spot (fontanelle), few wet nappies, dry and wrinkled skin that sags slowly back to normal when you gently pinch it, irritability, listlessness and sunken eyes.  Mild cases can be sorted with over-the-counter rehydration solution but severe cases will need intravenous fluid in hospital.

Very occasionally blisters can become infected. If they become red, swollen and hot make a GP appointment.

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