Baby's Cough Care

When you hear your baby cough, your first thought might be, “Call the pediatrician, now.” (Yes, even if it’s 3 a.m.) But with a little know-how, you just might be able to soothe your sick baby right at home. 

What causes a cough?
Usually, your baby’s cough coincides with a respiratory problem like a cold, a viral infection, bronchiolitis, whooping cough, or croup (the barking cough). All those illnesses tend to create extra mucus, which is a normal part of the healing process but is also what makes your baby cough. Other things, like allergies or asthma, can trigger coughing, too. 

How to treat your baby’s cough
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines aren’t safe for children under 4 years old. And since most coughs are caused by viral infections, antibiotics are usually out, too. So while your baby’s cough might just need to run its course, that doesn’t mean you can’t help him feel more comfortable in the meantime. Here’s how: 

  • Give homemade cough suppressants. For babies over 6 months, warm, clear fluids (e.g., warm water) can help soothe a sore throat and ease your baby’s coughing. For children over 1 year, you can also give 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey as needed. (Never give honey to babies under 1 year because it can cause infant botulism.) For babies under 3 months, call your pediatrician.
     
  • Raise his head. For babies over 12 months, elevating his head can reduce stuffiness and help him breathe easier. No need to overdo it, though -- just a little elevation using towels or pillowcases under his mattress or pillow can help.
     
  • Add humidity. Dry air only makes a cough worse. Run a hot shower with the door closed or use a humidifier in your baby’s room to add moisture, which will lubricate his airway.
  • Encourage plenty of rest and relaxation. As your baby is resting, he’s also healing. If he gets bored in his crib or bed, you can also set up a comfy place for him in the living room -- or even outside, if it’s a nice day.  

When to call the baby doc 
Your baby coughing alone might not be enough to warrant a call to the pediatrician. But you should get the doc involved if your baby...

  • Is under 3 months old, has any fever, or has been coughing for more than a few hours
  • Is over 3 months old and has a fever higher than 101°F
     
  • Is having trouble breathing, appears to be working hard to breathe, or is breathing faster than normal
  • Has a blue tint to his face, tongue, or lips
  • Makes a whistling sound when he breathes in, makes a “whooping” sound when breathing in after a cough, or wheezes when he breathes out
  • Is coughing up blood
  • Seems weak, cranky, irritable, or not like himself
  • Is dehydrated