So Your Kid Has Hand, Foot, and Mouth…

Imagine this scenario… I’m about one month postpartum, recovering from a c-section, still trying to get the hang of being a mom to two, gearing up for upcoming fall festivities and holiday season, nursing a newborn round the clock with no sleep…and my toddler has strep throat, an ear infection, AND Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease! Oh my goodness, however will we deal???

Let me tell you that I was a basket case trying to care for my pitiful toddler, keep him separated from the newborn, and diligently research to learn more about treatment.

To save you some stress and time, here is a quick guide to get you through this not-so-fun, but oh-so-common illness.

Hand, Foot, and What?

If you were like me and never had the pleasure of knowing what Hand, Foot, and Mouth {HFM} is, let me bring you up to speed. HFM is a common viral illness of infants and children, although adults can get it too.  A handout from my son’s school describes the disease as causing fever followed in 1-2 days of painful blister-like eruptions in the mouth and a skin rash usually located on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, but can also occur in other places like the legs, butt, and/or genitalia.  Blisters can persist for 7-10 days.  The virus is most contagious during the first week of the illness, but perhaps longer because the virus can persist in the stool of the infected person.  It’s spread from person to person by unwashed virus contaminated hands, direct contact with nose/throat discharges, droplets from coughing or sneezing, or feces.  Super fun!

A rash on a child's hand and arm.

Keeping the Kids Separated

Since HFM is highly contagious, I was a bit of a crazy lady about keeping my toddler away from my newborn.  The thought of an infant with HFM was terrifying to me, so I kept them apart as much as you can.  Of course, this is easier said than done, and at times, next to impossible, but at the very least I didn’t let them touch each other. I washed my hands so much between handling the two of them that my hands started cracking and bleeding.  My husband and I even went so far as to change our clothes after snuggling with the toddler before handling the newborn…just to be safe! A bit overboard, maybe, but I’m happy to report that the newborn never got it – at least this go-around!

Say Yes to Drugs

We had a nice little pharmacy rotation going on at this time. He was taking an antibiotic for the ear infection/strep but because HFM is viral, there isn’t anything you can take to get rid of it. Just medication to treat the pain and symptoms. Our pediatrician advised us to use a pain reliever and fever reducer regimen as well as another over-the-counter to help coat the throat to reduce the pain of the ulcers inside the mouth. It seemed to really help; however, you should always speak to your child’s doctor about the best course of action for your family.

For the pain of the blisters on the skin, we found that Aquaphor gave the most relief.  However, our doctor also mentioned trying Calamine Lotion. Be prepared for some yucky looking blisters which we experienced on his feet, hands, wrists, legs, bottom, ears, nose, and mouth. The worst of it lasted about two weeks, but even after a month there are still signs of where the blisters were.  And now the skin is peeling.

Hydrate and Get Calories Any Way You Can

One of the terrible symptoms of HFM are the sores that form inside the child’s mouth and throat making it painful to eat or drink. There were several days that I could barely get my toddler to take in anything, so worries of nutrition and diet went out the window. All I was concerned with was keeping him hydrated and with enough calories to get by. For us this meant milkshakes, chocolate milk, popsicles, cold yogurt, juice, and lots of mac & cheese.  We avoided anything acidic that might make the ulcers feel worse, like citrus and tomatoes. Pedialyte freezer pops are a great way to keep your little one hydrated, too, and can be found on the baby aisle of most grocery stores.

Meet Lysol, Your New BFF

My OCD tendencies started coming out as I disinfected the entire house twice daily with Lysol spray and Clorox wipes.  We would “fumigate” really good at night all of the areas the toddler played, especially his toys.  Anything that could be washed was laundered quite often, including blankets, stuffed animals, and bedding.  I did this consistently for a week.

A mother holding a sick child.

Notify School and Other Places

I still don’t know how our toddler got HFM, but between preschool, the church nursery, weekly gym classes, and every other place we run around, there is no telling! I immediately notified his preschool {which is also our church} and his gym class. You want to do this as soon as possible, so not only can they do a major clean of toys and anything your child may have had contact with, but they can notify other parents that their child was exposed. There is no shame in this, and it’s better to over-communicate on these things.

An Endurance Test

As inconvenient, painful, and awful that HFM is for everyone involved, it is very common, and you will all survive.  The best piece of advice I was told was that HFM is an endurance test. You can’t rush it, but you will get through it. I just kept reminding myself of that each day. For us, the worst of it lasted two days, and then each day after that we saw small improvements.

I would also urge you to not let others {myself included} stress you out. Your child may have a mild case that is totally different from another kid. I thought my baby had it bad, but I heard many worse cases from friends.  All these examples did for me in the beginning was totally freak me out. And whatever you do, don’t Google Image HFM!  Just don’t.

So your kid has Hand, Foot, and Mouth?  Grab the medicine, milkshake, and Mickey for them…and all the wine you can find for you!

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  1. Thank you for this! My 1 yr old has it now and she is my first. Obviously been terrified for the past few days but this was helpful.


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