During our 2-week trip to Northwest Montana, our son, Parks, wasn’t acting like his smiley and happy self. He’s usually a very energetic, busy, and happy baby, so when he started whining and only wanting to be held by me, we knew something was wrong. Over the course of a few days, we came to learn that Parks had his first bout of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease.
The name itself sounds very scary! It’s a very common childhood illness–a viral infection–that affects young children under 5 years of age and is spread through person-to-person contact. Unfortunately, there’s no specific treatment for the virus, and all you can do is treat the child’s symptoms.
Here’s how we experienced the different stages of Hand, Foot, and Mouth and my advice for other first-time parents who might be seeing symptoms.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 1
Symptoms: Low-grade fever, sleepy, lethargy, poor appetite
In the late afternoon on Saturday, Parks started to act whiney and lethargic. He also had a low appetite and felt a little warm, so we checked his temperature. It registered at 99.5, which is a very low-grade fever. Since we were traveling, we called our pediatrician to check in once we noticed those first symptoms to hear what they had to say. They told us to give him a lot of snuggles, let him sleep, and make sure he stays hydrated. They advised us to wait it out but take him to Urgent Care if he seemed to get worse.
It was a tough and sleepless night for all of us. Parks woke up crying every 1-2 hours. He’s been sleeping through the night for several months, so we typically do not intervene if he does wake in the night. This was different, so we comforted him and rocked him back to sleep. I offered feedings throughout the night to make sure he was getting plenty of fluids. He seemed to be miserable unless we were holding him, so I think it was probably due to the congestion that we started to notice the next day.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 2
Symptoms: Even sleepier, congestion, sad and clingy
This was his worst day, but he never did get a high temperature or fever worse than 99.5 degrees. We were able to manage it with Infant Tylenol, which our pediatrician said we could give him every 6 hours as needed. The congestion was noticeable in his breathing when he’d sleep but he didn’t have a runny nose. We threw his sleep and napping schedule out the window and allowed him to nap on us because that’s where he seemed to be most comfortable. He slept a lot, and we just followed his sleepy cues. Parks didn’t have any interest in playing with his toys, and just wanted to be held and snuggle. Despite not eating much during each nursing session, he wasn’t showing any signs of dehydration.
It was another tough night but was slightly better than the night before. We approached it the same way, offering feedings throughout the night and holding him until he fell asleep.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 3
Symptoms: Energy slowing coming back, small blisters on chin and cheek, losing voice, excessive drool, cough
By the third day, we could tell he was feeling better, but not awesome. We noticed a few pimples around his mouth, cheeks, and neck, which we assumed were because he was drooling a lot. We attributed the excessive amount of drool to a sore throat because that usually comes with a cold, which is what we thought he had. Before too long, we noticed additional sores forming on the backs of his legs and bum.
He slept much better on the third night, only waking up a few times. When he did wake up, it was easy to put him back to sleep. I continued offering feedings throughout the night whenever he woke up because making sure he was getting enough fluids is the most important thing.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 4
Symptoms: More sores forming on legs, feet, hands, and bum
By the fourth day, he was feeling much better and acting more like himself, but the sores were now on his fingers and more were forming around his mouth. Since we were on vacation in Montana, our pediatrician recommended a Telehealth visit. The doctor over the phone told us to take him to Urgent Care because the placement of his sores didn’t seem to align with Hand, Foot, Mouth (HFM) Disease. Parks’ sores weren’t inside his mouth or on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. Instead, they were on his chin, the backs of his legs, the tops of his fingers, and on his bum. That’s why the teledoc thought someone should examine him in person.
The in-person doctor noticed tiny red spots that we didn’t notice at home and pretty serious-looking skin blisters between his toes. They determined he has a form of Coxsackie virus, which is basically HFM. They prescribed Mupirocin for his open sores and told us there was not much else to do but treat his symptoms and wait.
He slept through the night, which was a huge relief, but of course, I woke up every few hours to make sure he was OK. My check-ins weren’t planned or intentional, it was just the ‘mom’ in me.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 5
Symptoms: Sores beginning to heal, voice coming back
By the fifth day, Parks was acting and feeling like his old self. He was eating more, smiley, energetic, and happy. The sores on his hands, feet, and bum looked painful, but the first sores we noticed on his face were healing. Despite the painful sores, Parks didn’t seem as bothered by them as one would expect. He never did experience any of the painful mouth sores that many people report, which was very lucky.
Stages of Hand Foot, and Mouth Disease: Day 6
Symptoms: Sores continuing to heal
By Day 6, Parks was out of the woods. His sores were still visible, but no new sores were forming and the ones he had were healing. He was still sleeping through the night and eating like normal. Whew!
My Advice for Other New Parents
If you’re a new parent who is worried about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, here’s my advice for you:
- Stay in touch with your pediatrician throughout the duration of your baby’s first illness. At the minimum, it will give you some peace of mind knowing that you’re doing all the right things.
- Throw sleep training and any other nap/bedtime “rules” out the window. Let your baby nap on you. Snuggle him to sleep. Feed him overnight. Do whatever it takes to make sure your baby feels supported and comfortable.
- Seek out support! Texting my “mom-friends” and hearing their similar stories really put me at ease.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Stages of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth dangerous for newborns?
Even though HFM is a fairly common illness for babies, when a baby younger than 6 months old gets a fever or has a weakened immune system, you should seek medical attention. Another time to make sure to contact your doctor is if your baby isn’t eating.
Can I go to work if my baby has Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Most adults who encounter HFM won’t show any symptoms. According to our doctor, as long as we don’t show any symptoms, we can go back to work. If you notice sores or feel under the weather, you should stay home until your symptoms have cleared.
What is the Hand, Foot, and Mouth quarantine period?
Children with visible open blisters should stay home until their blisters dry up.
When can my baby go back to daycare after having Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
If any sores or blisters your baby got during the illness are drying up, and he/she appears to be feeling better and doesn’t have a high fever, they are probably ready to return to daycare.
What can I do to prevent Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
The best way we can all do this is to practice good hygiene. Wash hands often and after every diaper change. Teach your kids proper hand washing techniques and encourage them to cover their mouths and noses if they cough or sneeze. If you have close contact or direct contact with an infected person, do your best to stay away from other people, sanitize surfaces in your home and those that family members may touch, and wash and sanitize your baby’s toys.