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What is the Best Baby Cough Medicine?

What To Give Your Baby For A Cough

Dr. Lourdes Mosqueda - Genexa Healthcare Provider & Partner Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Lourdes Mosqueda - Genexa Healthcare Provider & Partner on November 22, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

What is the Best Baby Cough Medicine?

As a new parent, it can be distressing when your baby develops a cough. Although it can be stressful to hear your baby cough, there are several ways to help your child feel better at home. This article will look at some of the causes of your baby’s cough and the best treatment methods available.

What Is the Cause Of My Baby’s Cough?

If your baby is coughing, it can be an indication of several different ailments and conditions. Given that coughs are the primary method the body uses to keep the airways clear, your baby might be coughing to remove phlegm, postnasal drip, or substances that have irritated their airways.

There are two main types of coughs: dry coughs and wet coughs. If your baby’s cough does not produce any sort of mucus or phlegm, it is likely a dry cough. A dry cough might be a symptom of a cold or allergies. If your baby is dry coughing, their throat may be irritated by post nasal drop or a sore throat.

If your baby coughs up mucus or phlegm, they may have a wet cough. Usually, a wet cough is the result of a respiratory illness or a bacterial infection. If your baby is fighting off an infection, their body will produce more mucus and white blood cells to help fight the bacteria or virus. This mucus will then collect and be ejected from their body by coughing.

If your baby is four months old or younger, you should contact your doctor if they are coughing. If your newborn develops a cough in the winter, they might have respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a viral infection that can be highly dangerous for infants.

To properly treat your baby’s cough, it is helpful to know what type of illness or ailment is causing the cough.

Some of the potential causes of your baby’s cough include:

Cold or Flu

If your baby’s cough sounds like a dry hack, they might have picked up the common cold or the flu. If they also have a stuffy or runny nose or a sore throat, they may have a cold. Another symptom of a cold or the flu is a slight fever at night.

Although a cough caused by the flu or a cold is usually dry, if it is a more serious cold, they might have some mucus come up with their cough.

In most cases, a cold can be treated at home, but it is always helpful to see a doctor to determine if your baby has a cold or the flu.

Croup Cough

The clearest indicator of croup cough in a baby is a cough that sounds like a barking noise paired with difficulty breathing. If your baby has croup, they may make a barking noise when they inhale.

Usually, croup affects children younger than five and clears up within three or four days. If their symptoms do not clear up within this timeframe or the cough progressively worsens, contact your doctor.

Bronchiolitis Cough

Bronchiolitis is a common lung infection that many children and infants develop. If your baby has bronchiolitis, their airways may become inflamed and congested. A majority of cases of bronchiolitis in babies under the age of one are caused by respiratory syncytial virus. Babies are at higher risk of developing bronchiolitis during the winter months.

A cough caused by bronchiolitis will usually sound like wheezing and may be accompanied by a slight fever and loss of appetite. It can be difficult to differentiate a cough caused by bronchiolitis from one caused by asthma so getting a professional opinion can be very helpful. Usually, asthma is not diagnosed in children under five unless the baby is prone to eczema or there is a family history of asthma.

Treating Your Baby’s Cough

In several cases, children will get better on their own and may not need medication given that colds in babies do not usually cause serious complications. However, it can be distressing to watch your baby cough, so it is important to know what treatment options are safe.

This section will cover what cough treatment methods are recommended for babies and what treatments to avoid.


According to the FDA, it is not advisable to give a child younger than two years old, over-the-counter cough medicine that contains a decongestant, cough expectorant, cough suppressant, or antihistamine because severe side effects can occur, including convulsions, rapid heart rates, and even death.

For this reason, you should read the label on medication carefully before giving it to your child, as well as buying products made specifically for children.

If you are unsure of whether or not the ingredients in a particular medicine will be harmful to your young child, you can call your doctor for advice before giving the medicine to your baby.

That being said, if your child is one or older, you can try giving them a remedy such as a honey cough syrup. Remedies that use ingredients such as honey, elderberry, and echinacea may help relieve your baby’s cough. Remember, however, that you should avoid giving honey to infants before their first birthday.


One of the best ways to ease your baby’s pain when they have a cough is by giving them plenty of fluids. When your child is well hydrated, their mucus will thin and it will become easier for them to cough up and expel from their body.

If your baby is very young, you can give them breastmilk and formula to keep them well hydrated. Once your baby is older, you can consider giving them water or unsweetened juice to ease their cough.

Saline Drops

Another way to moisten your baby’s mucus is by using saline nasal drops in their nose. If the mucus in your baby’s nose cannot be expelled, then it might drip down the back of their throat and cause postnasal drip which can lead to a wet, bark-like cough. If their cough is a result of post-nasal drip, it may be worse right when they wake up.

Putting two to three saline nasal drops in their nose throughout the day will moisten the mucus and remove any dirt or allergens that are causing their congestion. These drops might also reduce the likelihood of your baby developing a cough.

When Should I Go To The Doctor or the ER?

Regardless of the cause of your baby’s cough, there are a few warning signs you should look for that mean you should seek medical attention.

If, in addition to your baby’s cough, they show any of the following symptoms, you should consider taking your baby to be seen by a doctor immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood when coughing
  • A fever with a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) in babies under 3 months or higher than 102.2°F (39°C) in babies over 3 months
  • Tonsil swelling on just one side of their throat
  • Difficulty opening their mouth fully
  • Trouble swallowing

If their cough has any of the following symptoms, they may need immediate medical attention:

Any type of cough in a newborn three months old or younger

A cough that lasts longer than 10 days

A cough that worsens with time

A cough that causes weight loss or night sweats

Any cough that causes wheezing or rapid breathing

If your child is not exhibiting any of these symptoms but you feel they are acting abnormally or distressed, it might be helpful to call your pediatrician.


When your baby has a cough, it is important to determine the cause of their cough. You can determine the cause of their cough by listening to the sound they make when they cough and any other symptoms that they have in addition to their cough.

It is always a good idea to seek medical attention if your newborn is coughing, if you cannot identify the exact cause of their cough, or if you would just like a second opinion.

If the cause of your baby’s cough is a cold or allergies, you can try giving them a natural remedy such as cough syrup made specifically for babies. Other than this type of medicine, the FDA does not recommend giving children younger than two any type of over-the-counter cough medicine because it can have severe and potentially life-threatening side effects.

In addition to natural cough syrup, you can try to alleviate your baby’s cough by giving them plenty of fluids and using nasal saline drops a few times per day. Both of these home remedies will loosen and thin the mucus in your baby’s nose and lungs which will make it easier to cough up. In some cases, if your baby only has a congested nose and does not yet have a cough, these remedies may prevent them from developing a cough.


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