8 Natural Cough And Cold Remedies For Babies And Toddlers

Cough and cold medicines aren't safe for babies, so how can you help relieve baby's symptoms? Learn 8 natural ways to relieve baby's cough and cold symptoms.

When your little one coughs their way through an illness, it’s obviously an unpleasant experience for the both of you.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not safe to give over-the-counter cold or cough medicines to young children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that you should avoid giving these medicines to children under the age of 4. That’s because these products aren’t proven to work in children this young, and their potential harmful effects outweigh any benefits.

Over-the-counter cough medicines can make young children dizzy and restless.

And even if you give your little one the recommended dose for their weight, side effects can be even more serious. These medicines can sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, increase or loss of appetite, and (rarely) seizures.

There’s also the danger of accidental overdoses, because many of these medicines contain ingredients that overlap with other medicines (such as acetaminophen, decongestants and antihistamines). This could lead to a double dose of certain medicines if little one is already taking medicines to relieve fever, pain or allergies.

Cough drops aren’t safe for your little one, either, as they pose a serious choking risk.

With that in mind, though, there are still safer, natural ways to help remedy your little one’s cough, instead of using unsafe cough medicines and drops.

Here are the top 8 natural cough and cold remedies for babies and toddlers.

1. Honey (1 year old and older)

If your little one is at least a year old, honey’s a safe and effective remedy for their cough. In fact, some studies indicate that it works better than cough medicine. It reduces the mucus buildup that leads to coughing, and can even help your little one sleep better.

Buckwheat honey and other dark honeys may work best, as the darker the honey, the higher the antioxidant levels inside.

If you plan to give your little one honey for a cough, give them half a teaspoon as needed, up to 3-4 times per day. You can give them honey before bed, but if you do, brush their teeth afterwards.

Important Note: Honey is only safe for children 1 year of age and older. Don’t give honey to babies under the age of 1. The bacteria in honey can put infants at risk for a serious illness called botulism.

2. Chicken soup or chicken broth

If your little one is very comfortable eating solids, chicken soup is a great meal option for relieving cough, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure all the soup ingredients are cut into small enough pieces for baby to eat safely!

Or, for babies who have recently started solids, you can turn the chicken soup into a puree for the same benefits.

Chicken broth is another great anti-inflammatory option --- and it's a better option than chicken soup for younger babies. It’s safe to give chicken broth as soon as baby starts solids.

(Even though it’s technically a liquid, you should still hold off on giving chicken broth until baby is ready for solids.)

3. Other warm liquids

Liquids are always essential for keeping your little one hydrated, but they become even more essential when your child has a cold or is coughing for any reason.

If your child drinks warm liquids, they will also thin out the mucus that builds up. That way, it will be easier for your little one to cough up the mucus and clear things out.

Some warm liquids to consider are:

  • Warmed-up juice that you can see through and that has no sugar added, such as apple juice (for children 1 year and older)
  • Herbal tea with no caffeine. Lemon ginger tea works particularly well.
    • Use the tea by itself (nothing added) for babies 6 months and older.
    • For children 1 year old and older, you can add honey to the tea if desired. (Never give honey to babies under 1 year of age.)
  • Warm water (for babies 6 months and older)
  • Warm bone broth (for babies 6 months and older)
  • If baby is younger than 6 months, only give them breastmilk or formula (warm or cold). Don't give other liquids.

4. A cool-mist humidifier

Running a cool-mist humidifier (sometimes called a vaporizer) will help thin out baby’s congestion and reduce coughing.

Ideally, the humidifier should be as close to your little one as possible, but somewhere they can’t reach it. The closer your child is to the humidifier, the more effective it will be, because the humidifier puts the most moisture in the air that’s closest to the humidifier.

Replace the water in the humidifier daily, and clean it often based on the instructions that came with the humidifier. This will keep bacteria and mold (which can make your little one sicker) from growing.

Important Note: Make sure you’ve chosen the cool-mist kind of humidifier. The hot water and steam in heated humidifiers pose a burn risk to babies and young children.

5. A “steam room” in your bathroom

Creating a "steam room" in your bathroom has a similar effect to the humidifier. The heat of the steam helps loosen congestion and cut down on coughing.

  • Bring books or toys into the bathroom, so you're ready to keep baby occupied.
  • Stand outside the shower and start running the shower on hot.
  • Leave the room and close the door so the room can fill up with steam.
  • Then, bring baby into the bathroom (directly outside the shower) and immediately close the door again.
  • Sit directly outside the shower with baby for 10-15 minutes. Play with them using the toys, and/or read them books.

6. Saline drops in the nose

When baby has a cold, the drainage of their runny nose often moves into the back of the nose and into the throat. This is called postnasal drip, and can be one cause of cough.

Whether they're over-the-counter or homemade, saline drops can help stop this drip and relieve cold symptoms. And they'll work for a baby of any age.

If you'd like to make your own saline drops, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of warm water until the salt dissolves. (Homemade saline drops should be discarded after a day, to help keep them from getting contaminated with bacteria.)

Several times throughout the day, drop 2-3 saline drops into each of baby's nostrils using an eyedropper. (For a step-by-step guide to giving saline drops, consult this article from Verywell Health.)

Learn more about saline drops, and other cough and cold remedies for young children, in this video from board-certified pediatrician Dr. Mona Amin:

7. Nasal suction

After using saline drops, you can use a bulb syringe to suck out some of the mucus and keep it from irritating baby's nose.

  • Press and hold the bulb of the syringe as you insert it ¼ to ½ inch into baby's nostril.
  • Point the syringe towards the back of their nose.
  • Then, release the bulb so the syringe can draw out the mucus.
  • Squeeze the mucus into a tissue.
  • Clean the bulb syringe before repeating the process with the other nostril.
  • Then, clean the bulb syringe again before putting it away.

You can also buy an electric nasal aspirator and have it suck out the mucus, but an aspirator is more expensive than a bulb syringe.

Don't use the nasal bulb or aspirator more than 2-3 times per day. Using it more often might irritate baby's nose.

8. Lots of rest

No matter how old your little one is, one of the best ways to help them get over their cough is to let them get lots of rest! After all, getting plenty of rest lets the immune system do its best work.

Using any of the above home remedies before bed can be especially helpful.

And don't underestimate the power of close comfort when baby has a cold or cough. Your TLC goes a long way in helping them feel at ease and settle down to sleep.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.