Baby Cough


Baby Cough Can Quickly Become More Serious



How can a baby’s simple cold and cough quickly develop into a life threatening illness?

The reason a baby’s cough can sometimes quickly progress into a more serious problem is because the airway passages in a baby’s respiratory system are quite small and narrow and any infection that causes inflammation and swelling of these passageways can have devastating consequences.

Baby coughing can be brought on by many different causes.  Although many times a baby cough is simply due to a common cold, never assume that an infant with a bad cough and a fever just has a cold. Some coughs in babies can indicate a potentially serious condition.


Baby Cough Tips

Infants Under 4 Months Of Age

Babies younger than 4 months do not usually have a cough.

Anytime an infant under the age of 4 months is experiencing a significant amount of coughing it is important to have the pediatrician take a look at the baby.

At this early age a cough can quickly develop into a more serious condition.

Steps To Assess A Baby Cough

The first and most important step to take when your baby is coughing is to determine what type of cough the baby has and if medical attention is needed.  Dr. Jim Sears of The Doctors TV discusses when to be concerned about a baby cough.


The information below has been included to help you assess your baby’s cough.
How often is the baby coughing? - Regardless of how a cough sounds, if a baby is coughing every minute or two or every few seconds then you should call the doctor.

Does the baby have long spells of coughing where they lose their breath? - This is a key symptom of pertussis (whooping cough) and the baby should be checked by a doctor right away to confirm or rule out a possible case of whooping cough.


What does the cough sound like:

Barking Cough – This most likely means the baby has croup. Call the doctor if there are any indications of breathing difficulty or if the baby is less than four months of age.

Dry or Scratchy Sounding – Dry cough can have a number of causes, one of which is  the second stage whooping cough. Take the baby to the doctor if you suspect whooping cough / pertussis because a baby’s respiratory system is very vulnerable to whooping cough.

Wet or Rattly Sounding – Watch the baby closely and call the doctor if there are any other accompanying symptoms such as fever or respiratory distress.  Also call the doctor if the baby is under four months of age and has a wet or rattly cough.


Is the baby experiencing any of the following signs of respiratory distress:

Symptoms of respiratory distress are cause for an immediate call to the doctor or emergency care.

  • More than 40 breaths per minute
  • Labored breathing:
  • Making a little grunting sound with each breath
  • Using the abdomen to get the air out of the lungs with every breath
  • Skin pulling at the base of the neck or between the ribs
  • Nose flaring
  • Stridor (a high pitched sound when taking a breath)
  • Head bobbing – See an example of a baby with respiratory distress exhibiting head bobbing in the video below:


Are any of the following symptoms present?  If so, call the doctor.

  • High Fever (102 or higher)
  • Is the baby acting weak or lethargic?

In the video below Pediatrician Dr. David Hill shares valuable information on baby cough conditions, including how to identify and treat various causes of baby coughs.


Causes of Cough in Infants Under 12 Months Old

Below is a list of some of the most common causes of baby cough followed by a few informational videos on some of these conditions.

  • Common Cold - If cold symptoms don’t get better in 10 to 14 days it may be an indication of a bacterial infection or something more serious and it’s time to call the doctor.
  • Whooping Cough / Pertussis - A severe cough lasting up to 30 seconds followed by a distinctive whooping sound.  Contact the pediatrician any time pertussis is suspected in a baby.
  • Croup - A barking cough caused by swollen vocal chords and airways which is usually worse at night. Croup typically does not require medical treatment but it’s a good idea to contact your doctor because in babies there are occasions when serious complications can arise from croup.
  • Pneumonia – A baby may develop pneumonia after a lengthy cold. Pneumonia can be dangerous in babies, so contact your pediatrician if cold & cough symptoms continue longer than 3 weeks.
  • Asthma - Asthma in babies can include some or all of the following symptoms: 1) Coughing; 2) Wheezing; and/or, 3) Difficulty Breathing. It is important to see your doctor if your baby has been having any of these symptoms for more than 2 to 3 weeks so the doctor can assess what the root cause is.
  • Sinus Infection / Sinusitis – A cold & cough lasting longer than 3 weeks may progress into a case of sinusitis, a sinus infection, in which baby will continue with cold symptoms with a daytime cough that may be worse at night. Sinusitis lasts 10 to 14 days.
  • Bronchitis – A viral infection of the upper airway often including coughing, basically the same thing as a cold.
  • Bronchiolitis – A viral infection which affects bronchioles (the tiny bronchial tubes) which can be life threatening to infants, especially under four months of age.
  • RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus – This is the same as bronchiolitis which is a viral infection which is very dangerous in a young infant and requires urgent medical attention.


Informational Video on: Whooping Cough / Pertussis


Informational Video on: Croup Cough


Informational Video on: Baby Asthma


Informational Video on: Baby Bronchitis & Bronchiolitis


Informational Video on: RSV



Home Remedies for Baby Cough

After you have confirmed what’s causing your baby’s cough and you have talked to your pediatrician, try a baby cough remedy you can give at home to help relieve the cough symptoms the baby is experiencing.

Adding moisture to the air that the baby is breathing is a quite effective baby cough remedy in helping a baby’s dry cough.  The first two home baby cough remedies listed here are remedies that do just that — add moisture to the air. These methods have stood the test of time and remain a favorite choice of treatment by doctors and parents alike.

To help a baby with a dry cough, this steam room baby cough remedy has stood the test of time.  Sit with the baby in a steamy bathroom while running hot water in the shower or bathtub for about 15 minutes.

Vaporizer / Humidifier
Adding moisture by utilizing a vaporizer or humidifier is another excellent option for a baby or infant cough remedy.  Most doctors recommend using a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer.

Chest Physical Therapy / Chest Percussion Of Upper Lobes
Dr. Jim Sears, a pediatrician with The Doctors TV program demonstrates a technique he calls chest physical therapy, a method in which he cups his hand and gently claps on the baby’s back.  This helps to loosen phlegm to help the baby cough it out.  In another segment Dr. Sears recommends doing this while sitting with the baby in a steamy bathroom.

Watch demonstration of Chest Physical Therapy in video below at the 2:45 point.

Natural Homeopathic Cough Syrup For Babies Over 6-Months-Old
Over the counter cough medicine has been determined to no longer be safe for children under the age of 4 years old.  But there are natural homeopathic cough syrups that are safe to use for babies 6 months of age or older.  In the video above Dr. Sears of The Doctors TV recommends a brand of natural cough syrup called Hyland’s Baby Cough Syrup.

Homemade Honey Cough Syrup For Babies Over 1-Year-Old
Squeeze about 4 to 6 drops of juice from a thin slice of a fresh lemon into a half teaspoon of honey and mix together.  Give as a cough syrup.

Warm Milk & Honey Cough Remedy For Babies Over 1-Year-Old
Heat 1/4 cup milk until it is warm but not hot and mix in 1/2 tablespoon honey.

Karo Syrup Instead Of Honey For Infants Younger Than 6-Months-Old
Check with your pediatrician first, but many will recommend Karo Syrup as a substitute in place of honey in order to relieve coughing for infants under 6 months of age.

Baby Nasal Saline Spray / Drops For Cough Relief
Using a nasal saline solution will flush out mucus. Dr. Jim Sears of The Doctors TV recommends a brand called “Little Noses Baby Nasal Saline Spray/Drops.”

Baby Massage for Cough
Watch the following demonstration of baby massage techniques that help baby cough and colds.  This baby massage can help soothe congestion and help your baby to relax. Helping your baby to stay calm is very helpful in reducing the amount of coughing.

Do not give honey to babies younger than 12 months as they are at risk of contracting infant botulism because their digestive tract is not yet fully developed.


Vaccinations For Pertussis/Whooping Cough

There is some debate over the safety of vaccines for babies but the majority of doctor opinion strongly recommends the pertussis vaccine.  Doctors not only recommend that babies get this vaccine, but strongly recommend that adults who are around babies and young children also get the vaccine.

All too frequently adults are responsible for spreading pertussis to babies and children, often without even being aware that they even have pertussis. Adult symptoms of pertussis, or whooping cough, are typically very mild and sometimes even unnoticeable; however, whooping cough is a potentially dangerous disease for children, and especially so in babies.

Chest Physiotherapy

Dr. David Hill/Board Certified Pediatrician on RSV

Asthma Society of Canada – Asthma in Infants

12 Responses to “Baby Cough”

  1. Jolina says:

    My 6 month old daughter got a cough out of no where. Dr. said it’s just a virus and to call if it gets worse. She just sounds so miserable, wondered what you suggest?

    • Lee says:

      Make sure she gets lots of fluids because that will help loosen the cough up and keep her hydrated. Also good old fashioned steam is one of the best things to help relieve a baby’s cough. And like your doctor said call if it gets worse. Occasionally a baby’s cough can worsen and the doctor may need to see her again.

  2. Sarah D. says:

    I think I heard that kids or babies aren’t supposed to have honey. Is that true? Because honey always helps my cough.

    • Lee says:

      Babies younger than 12 months should not have honey because their digestive system is not developed enough, causing risk of botulism. Karo syrup is a safe substitute instead of honey to help soothe and relieve baby coughing.

  3. Theresa W. says:

    How important is it to use a cool mist vaporizer instead of a humidifier?

    • Lee says:

      The main purpose is to get moisture in the air. One reason that cool mist vaporizers are usually recommended for babies and children is simply the fact that the unit does not need to create boiling water and eliminating the burn risk to a crawling baby or toddler.

  4. Karen Sotherby says:

    I’m worried about my baby’s cough it sounds so terrible. It’s the weekend we were wondering if this cough might be whooping cough or croup, but my husband and I aren’t sure what those coughs sound like.

    • Lee says:

      You can check out the videos on this webpage because they describe and also play sound clips of different types of cough. If you feel this cough is something serious call your doctor, even though it’s the weekend. Any pediatrician’s office will have someone on call to help you determine what you should do.

  5. Liz says:

    Everytime my 7 month old lays down his cough flares up and he’s not able to get much sleep.

    • Lee says:

      The position when laying down worsens coughing because it causes the mucus and sinuses to drain in the baby’s throat, triggering more coughing. Also some types of coughs, like viral coughs or croup, are typically worse at night. Try propping baby up with some pillows, keep the air passageways moist by giving the baby plenty of fluids to drink, as well as using a cool mist vaporizer.

  6. Rose says:

    Why does my baby get so many colds and coughs?

    • Lee says:

      One factor is that babies’ immune systems are still developing and vulnerable to infection. Other factors include daycare, everyday exposure to germs by touching and putting things in their mouth, cold weather, etc. It’s not unusual for babies and young children to come down with an average of 6 to 10 colds each year. Keep in contact with your doctor to confirm nothing else is going on.

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