Cough Remedies for Babies and Toddlers

When you have a cough or cold, you might reach for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to ease your symptoms. But you can't do that for babies or toddlers. Cough and cold medicines that are safe for grownups can cause serious side effects -- even life-threatening ones -- in children under age 2.

If your baby or toddler is sniffling or coughing, try these methods. They’re all drug-free and safe for the tiniest of patients:

Try Saline Drops

When your child's nose is stuffy, she may have trouble breathing, sleeping, and eating. Saline nasal drops can thin the mucus in her nose and shrink swollen airways. Use them two or three times per day; any more often could make her nose sore.

Saline drops may make it easier to remove mucus from your child's nose. For babies, try a suction bulb. If your toddler can blow her nose with your help, give that a try.

Increase Fluids

When your child isn't feeling well, give more drinks than usual. Extra fluids can thin out her mucus so her nose won't be as stuffy and she’ll cough up all that gunk more easily.

Most drinks, like water, juice, and milk, are fine. Warm liquids like chicken soup, apple cider, or hot chocolate can soothe a sore throat. Be sure they’re warm, not hot, to avoid burns.

Babies under 6 months should only drink breast milk or formula, not water or juice. But you may offer more milk than usual for coughs or colds.

Give a Little Honey

It soothes sore throats and eases coughs. It may even work better for children than OTC cough medicines. Give your child 1/2 teaspoon of honey before bedtime. But never give it to a child less than a year old. It can make them very ill.

Raise Baby's Head

Have you ever slept with extra pillows when you had a stuffy nose to breathe more easily? This trick works for babies, too. Simply place a pillow or folded towel under the head of your baby's mattress to create a slight angle. This will raise her head safely and help her to breathe.

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Use a Humidifier

Moisture in the air makes it easier to breathe, so run a humidifier in your child's bedroom at night. Cool-mist models are safer than those that produce steam. Follow cleaning instructions on the device to prevent mold.

Lower Fevers

Some colds and coughs come with a slight fever. If your baby or toddler has a fever, follow these steps:

  • Babies under 1 month: Call your pediatrician. Fever isn’t normal.
  • Babies under 3 months: Call the doctor for advice.
  • Babies 3 to 6 months: Give acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours as needed. Follow dosage guidelines closely, and only use the syringe that came with the medicine, not a household spoon.
  • Babies 6 months or older and toddlers: Give acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours or ibuprofen every 6 to 8 hours. Don't give both drugs at the same time -- it could lead to accidental overdose.

Serve Easy-to-swallow Foods

Babies and toddlers with scratchy, sore throats often don't want to eat because it hurts to swallow. Feed them foods that go down more easily.

Toddlers and babies who eat solids may prefer soft, smooth foods. Try ice cream, ice pops, flavored gelatin, pudding, yogurt, or applesauce. If they prefer warmer foods, try chicken broth or freshly made pudding. Babies 6 months and younger should stick with breast milk or baby formula.

These are just a few easy ways to soothe your little one’s cough or cold. Try them instead of over-the-counter medicines. She’ll be feeling better in no time.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on October 27, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, Wilmington, NC; author, Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro.

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, Atlanta; co-author, Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Coughs and colds: Medicines or home remedies?”

FDA: “Giving medication to children.”

Shadkam, M. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2010.

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