While the older children and adults in your household can combat a cough with the help of over-the-counter medications, your baby is out of luck: The Food and Drug Administration warns parents in a public health advisory not to give cough medicine to children younger than 2, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken this warning a step farther by releasing a position that said over-the-counter cold and cough medications aren’t effective for those younger than age 6 and shouldn’t be used.
A cough is the body’s natural reflex to clear mucus or another irritant from the throat. While they’re annoying, most coughs aren’t dangerous, according to the AAP, and it’s best to allow the symptoms to pass on their own without the use of any medications.
Relief at Home
If your baby has a cold, you can take steps to make him or her more comfortable, including:
- Adding a humidifier to the nursery. The cold mist from a humidifier can ease breathing difficulties by shrinking the nasal passages. Warm mist humidifiers aren’t recommended, because they can allow the nasal passages to swell, increasing breathing issues.
- Offering the baby more formula, breast milk or fruit juice to keep him or her hydrated.
- Suctioning the baby’s nose with a bulb syringe can remove the mucus buildup that can add to coughing.
- Using over-the-counter fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can reduce the pain and fever associated with some colds.
- Using saline drops to moisten nasal passages to relieve stuffiness.
While honey can help ease coughing in older children, it’s not recommended for use in babies younger than age 1.
Call the Doctor!
While most coughs aren’t dangerous, infants and toddlers are particularly susceptible to a common and very contagious virus known as respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. While adults with RSV might only experience minor cold symptoms, infants and young children with RSV can develop more serious problems that can have a long-term impact on their respiratory system. Babies who were born prematurely are at a particularly high risk for RSV.
Mild cases of RSV don’t require treatment, but some infants will need breathing treatments and possibly hospitalization. Call the doctor if your baby has:
- A cough or nasal discharge that produces mucus that isn’t clear
- A high fever
- Breathing difficulties
- Increased irritability
- Increased lethargy
- Signs of dehydration or doesn’t want to eat