Mother and Baby

Whooping Cough

Section: Baby Health

If it’s whooping cough your baby is suffering from, he’s likely to have a persistent, dry cough which is hard to shift. But there are ways to offer him comfort.

What is it?

This bacterial infection sits in the lungs and tends to have peaks every few years. ‘It can be passed from person to person through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing. Your baby should receive a vaccination against whooping cough – which is also known as pertussis – when he is eight, 12 and 16 weeks old.

If you’re pregnant, get vaccinated. The antibodies in the injection pass from your blood stream, through the placenta and into your baby. This will provide a protection for him in the window between when he’s born and his first vaccination at eight weeks.

What are the symptoms?

The illness starts with a cold and cough. It’s not usually until the distinctive whooping noise develops that your baby will be diagnosed as having the infection. ‘The sound is created because your baby takes a deep, wheezy intake of breath after a prolonged bout of coughing,’ says Dr David Elliman from the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health.

‘He may also have a temperature and vomit afterwards.’ In some cases, the force of the coughing can cause a blood vessel to burst in your baby’s eye, which will appear red and bloodshot.
While rare, in serious cases whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, inflammation of the brain due to lack of oxygen and even death.

The sound is created because your baby takes a deep, wheezy intake of breath after coughing

What can you do?

If your baby catches whooping cough, call your GP for advice.

‘He may prescribe antibiotics, which won’t necessarily reduce the length of illness, but it can stop your baby from being infectious,’ says David.

To make your baby feel more comfortable, ensure he has plenty of rest and fluids to prevent dehydration. Infant paracetamol can help relieve high temperature and sore throat.

Babies under 12 months will be admitted to hospital and treated in isolation with antibiotics and corticosteroid medication to reduce inflammation in the airways. Older toddlers and children can be treated at home – just make sure they get plenty of rest and fluids.

Call your GP if...

If coughing is causing your baby’s face to drain of colour and give his lips a blue tinge. ‘It’s a sign that he’s not taking on enough oxygen, which can be dangerous,’ says David.

‘If your baby is off his feeds and hasn’t produced a wet nappy in over 12 hours, you should also contact your doctor.’



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