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Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease in Babies

Recently, our little one had hand, foot and mouth disease. We’d never experienced this illness before so we learnt a lot over those few days: both about the illness itself as well as how to work as a team to help him through it as quickly as possible. In this article we explore what the disease is, any treatments and how to stop it spreading. We also give our first hand experience of the disease as well as our tips for how we got through the long weekend.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

According to the NHS: hand, foot and mouth disease is a common childhood illness which usually clears up by itself within 7-10 days. It can affect adults too but is more common in babies and children. It’s a virus which causes blisters to appear on the hands and feet as well as ulcers inside the mouth and on the tongue. It’s usually preceded by a sore throat and temperature. Antibiotics and medicines do not cure hand, foot and mouth disease; the illness has to run its course.

What are the earliest signs of hand, foot and mouth disease?

The earliest signs that your little one has the disease is that they may have a sore throat, a high temperature (above 38 degrees) and a loss of appetite or refusal to eat.  After a few days, mouth ulcers will appear shortly followed by a rash. These mouth ulcers make it difficult and unpleasant for your little one to eat or drink which is generally the worst side effect of this illness.

hand foot and mouth baby ulcer

How can we treat hand, foot and mouth disease?

Unfortunately, there are no medicines or antibiotics to remedy hand, foot and mouth disease. It’s the type of illness that you need to allow to run its course. There are some things you can do to help alleviate the discomfort your little one is feeling: offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, offer soft foods and give calpol or ibuprofen to ease their sore mouth and throat. You could also try an oat bath or milk bath to soothe the skin. If you speak to a pharmacist you may be able to get treatments such as mouth ulcer gels to alleviate the discomfort. Do speak to your GP if you are concerned about any of your child’s symptoms or if the symptoms have lingered for over 7-10 days.

How long is a person contagious for with hand, foot and mouth?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is passed onto others very easily. It is spread via coughs, sneezes and poo. If your little one attends nursery or playgroups they will have likely caught it from sharing toys with others. You are infectious from a few days before you have any symptoms, which is how it’s spread so easily as other parents will be unaware their children have got the illness when taking them out. If your child attends daycare, it is advised to keep them home when they are feeling unwell. But as soon as they’re feeling better, they are okay to return and you don’t have to wait for the blisters to clear.

How can we stop hand, foot and mouth disease from spreading?

As we’ve mentioned, hand, foot and mouth disease is highly contagious. However, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the spreading. Firstly, wash your hands often and encourage your little ones to do the same. Secondly, try to use tissues and wipes to trap the germs when your little one coughs or sneezes and bin these as soon as possible. Ensure your child isn’t sharing towels or cutlery with others- if they’re at the stage where they’re putting everything in their mouths then be mindful of this at playgroups and don’t allow other children to share these toys until they’ve been disinfected.

Can adults catch hand, foot and mouth from a child?

Adults can catch hand, foot and mouth disease via coughs, sneezes and direct contact with the fluid within the blisters. Adults are less susceptible than children to catching the illness because of their stronger immune system. However, the illness can be more severe in adults. Like with children, there is no treatment for an adult with hand, foot and mouth disease: stay hydrated and rest until the illness has passed.

prevent hand foot and mouth

Is it dangerous to catch hand, foot and mouth disease whilst pregnant?

Experts don’t believe that hand, foot and mouth disease causes any risk to your developing baby while you’re pregnant. Naturally, you should try and avoid close contact with anyone who has it though, especially in the third trimester as you approach your due date. If you get hand, foot and mouth disease within the three weeks before you’re due to give birth, there’s a possibility you may pass the infection to your newborn baby. Contact your GP for advice if you develop a rash or any of the other listed symptoms whilst pregnant.

Also read our other guides: baby bottles, weaning products, slings and bouncers.

Our experience of hand, foot and mouth disease.

baby health advice, contact best for mums

When our little one was 10 months old he caught hand, foot and mouth disease.

On the Friday night, Leon woke crying at around 11pm, I tried to breastfeed him back to sleep but as he tried to latch on, his crying worsened. I’d never experienced this before: normally my boobs seem to fix any upset. At one point when he was crying, Leon tilted his head back and I could see a blister on his tongue. Luckily we were able to see a GP at an out of hours surgery first thing Saturday morning. At this point Leon didn’t have a temperature nor did he have any blisters on his hands or feet but the Dr explained it was likely to be hand, foot and mouth disease.

Over the course of the weekend, the blisters on his hands and feet did develop but these didn’t seem to bother him. The main issue was the breastfeeding. He was taking very little milk if/when he did feed on me so I expressed twice a day. We did manage to get him to take the milk out of an open cup and offered him this, the boob and his bottle of water regularly. For food, we offered cucumber sticks and yoghurts which he had bits of.

The other issue we found was because Leon is so used to feeding to sleep, he was not getting to sleep easily with me because he was frustrated with pain in his mouth as he tried to feed. Instead, during the day my husband took him out in the pram after giving him expressed milk out of his cup. This worked well as he was tired anyway with having the virus; it also allowed me to rest in the day as the nights had been hard. At night I offered the boob each time – some times he’d take it and other times I’d rock him back to sleep.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday were the hardest days of the illness. I think Leon’s reliance on breastfeeding for comfort and sleep made everything trickier because the ulcers made this too uncomfortable. If you’re in a similar situation then my advice would be to express milk, offer this milk both at room and fridge temperature, offer water also throughout the day. Offer snacks that are soft. Nap when you can, if someone can take your little one out for a sleep in the pram then use that time to rest or sleep yourself.

Watching your child be ill and being unable to help them is heartbreaking. We hope you’ve found this article informative and useful. If your baby or child is currently experiencing hand, foot and mouth disease then know that as intense as it feels right now, within a few days they will be back to their old selves. If you have any tips or advice please let us know in the comments below.