Baby’s up all night with the sniffles and a cough – and so are his worried mom and dad.

But with drug companies now voluntarily pulling infant cold medicines from the shelves, what can you do? Plenty, and plenty that may be more effective and safer, too, doctors say.

“We don’t typically give her any medication,” said Michael Adams, father to 1-year-old Alana in Lafayette, Colo. “The first thing we always try to do is keep saline in her nose. We use a humidifier in her room. We do steam baths. If she has aches, Tylenol.”

Consult your physician for severe or prolonged symptoms, of course. Fever in babies under 6 months can require immediate care, and a child who struggles breathing may need emergency help.

But once you are certain your child has an old-fashioned cold, pediatricians offer these ideas to help make him more comfortable:


Babies with clogged noses tend to breathe through their mouths, which makes the cough worse, said Dr. Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, an academic pediatrician at the University of California, Irvine. She recommends using a humidifier because moisture helps relieve nasal congestion and calm coughs.

Sitting in a steamed bathroom with the baby produces the same benefit and may be even better, said Dr. Ian Paul, a pediatrician and researcher on cough and cold medicines from Penn State University’s College of Medicine. Humidifiers can contain mold and bacteria. “There’s also the concern that when it’s a hot water humidifier, children can get burned from it,” he said.

Nonaspirin options

Non-aspirin pain relievers are OK for babies, said Paul. Acetaminophen is safe for children as young as 3 months; ibuprofen for children as young as 6 months, he said. These medications can help with sore throats, muscle aches and fevers. Consult your physician on dosage.

Saline drops/suction bulb

Because small babies can’t blow their nose (and breathing through their mouths is hard), saline drops can loosen the mucus to help it drain or to make it easier for parents to suction it out with a suction bulb, said Le-Bucklin, who also is the content editor for “Put a couple of drops in one nostril and then suction,” she said. It’s best to do one nostril at a time. “I tell parents that even if they don’t get a lot of mucus out, they can help the mucus go backwards (so the child can swallow it).”


Keep a child well hydrated, said Paul. If the baby has diarrhea or is vomiting, he suggests Pedialyte. But any liquid is fine, he said. Moms should continue breastfeeding.

Vaporizing rubs

Regular vaporizing rubs can be too strong for use on young children. Consult the packaging and a physician.


Because pillows are not recommended for babies, parents can elevate the bed by putting a small wedge under the crib mattress, said Le-Bucklin. “That’s a nice way to get the entire bed kind of elevated without putting them at risk for SIDS. It also helps clear nasal passages.”

Chicken soup

Yes, a good old bowl of chicken soup can help with cold symptoms in children, especially since kids who are sick sometimes don’t want to eat, said Le-Bucklin. She recommends low-sodium soup for children over the age of 1, who are comfortably eating solid foods. (Make sure no pieces of food are large enough or hard enough to cause choking, of course.)

Give it time

A normal cold often takes a little time to work through.

Cynthia Robinson, a mother of four in San Diego, Calif., including a 7-month-old, said she doesn’t use any decongestants or cough suppressants for her youngest child.

“Even though they will be really sick for one solid day, if we let them go through that one day, the rest of the cold seems to work itself out much faster,” she said.

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