A useful placebo to sooth your baby’s cold

If you or I have a cold we can, if we like, take a lot of Paracetamol and ibuprofen, suck Strepsils for our sore throats, take decongestant for our stuffy noses, stick our heads over a bowl of fragrantly spiced boiling water to loosen phlegm, dose ourselves with hot toddies and take mild sedatives to aid restorative sleep.

Babies can’t have any of that. They can have some Calpol or ibuprofen if they’ll take it and they can have a bit of Olbas oil on a muslin in their cot as a decongestant. They feel just as rotten as you do, they just can’t take anything for it. And they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know it’s ‘just’ a cold. They only know they feel awful.

Yes, it’s only congestion but they can’t breathe with it and they cough themselves awake ten times a night.

So what the hell can you do?

I have in the past sworn by sitting in a steamy bathroom with the baby for ten minutes, three times a day to cure coughs and colds – it does help but it’s a hellishly boring thing to have to do.

Sam had such a bad cough from when he was four months to about eight months old that I was given a nebuliser – a machine that turned saline solution into a vapour.

He would hold a stick-thing that billowed out clouds of dispersed saline and I would try and get him to put it in his mouth. It was good. But that is the kind of extreme thing you have to resort to with small children when they have something even as anodyne-sounding as congestion.

Yes, it’s only congestion but they can’t breathe with it and they cough themselves awake ten times a night. They cannot cough it out or spit it up – sometimes they vomit it up, but that isn’t ideal.

The phlegm and mucus can rattle up and down in their chests and the back of their throats for weeks, going bad, making life a misery. It’s a small problem, but with hateful consequences.

There used to be a product available on the market called MediSed, which was an infant suspension that contained Paracetamol and a decongestant, which you could use on babies from six months old.

But a side-effect of this medicine was that it acted as a sedative, and unscrupulous parents were said to be drugging their children to sleep every night with this tincture. So they changed the rules, saying the medicine was only to be used on children over the age of six.

Then a few years ago they discontinued it. I had never once used MediSed unless a child was ill, and it had been a godsend whenever Kitty had just been too bunged-up and miserable to sleep properly.

When I heard it had been discontinued I briefly wept at the injustice of life and the world, and then set about making my own home-brewed MediSed, which is a slightly unholy mixture of 2.5ml Piriton, which acts as a mild sedative and decongestant, and Calpol for pain relief.

I think it works. I have no actual scientific evidence, except that Sam seems to sleep better when he’s got a cold having had a blast of it.

I think the effect may be mostly on me, for my nerves. It may act as nothing more than a placebo – but in scientific trials placebos are most effective if both the doctor and the patient believe that they work. And that is a fact.

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