Coughing in Infants and Toddlers

Clearing the air: How to deal with coughing in infants and toddlers.

coughing baby on moms shoulder

tali ditye author mommyhood101  By: Tali Ditye, Ph.D., Co-founder
  Updated: April 29, 2023

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When your baby begins making noises other than crying, it can be an amazing and rewarding experience for parents! But a cough can come as a surprise and make parents worry that something is amiss.

When to Worry About Coughing

If your baby has a persistent cough you should call the pediatrician, especially if the baby seems to be working hard to breathe, is wheezing (high-pitched short breaths), has blood in saliva, has a fever or other illness or disease. If your baby is choking on something, call 911.

Can my baby take cough medicine?

No, never give your baby cough medicine (suppressant, expectorant, decongestant, or antihistamine) without talking to your pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both warn against using any of these products on children under the age of 3 unless ordered by your doctor.

Why is my baby coughing?

There are many reasons why your baby could be coughing. Some of the most common reasons for coughing are allergies, the common cold, aspirating saliva or milk (i.e., "swallowing wrong"), or environmental irritants (dust, fur, hair, cigarette smoke, pollution, etc). Some of the less common and more serious reasons for coughing are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), croup, pneumonia, sinusitis, aspirating on an object (choking on an object), or whooping cough. Some of these are described below:

Allergies. Babies who are allergic to something in their environment, such as dust, dog or cat dander, or pollen, may sniffle and cough so much that it seems like they have a cold all the time! When a baby is exposed to one of these allergens they might cough a lot. You should talk to your doctor about some ways to help this problem, and also read more about allergies here.

nestig cloud crib

The Common Cold. When babies get a cold, they usually cough a lot, sneeze more than usual, have watery eyes and a runny nose, have a reduced appetite and sometimes a low fever.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This is a common virus in babies, which often is mistaken for a cold. The problem is, sometimes RSV can lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis. If your baby has the symptoms of a cold with the addition of a worsening cough and heavy labored breathing, talk to your doctor about the possibility that your baby might have RSV.

Croup. Does your baby sound like a barking dog? Croup sound clips, and treatment options, can be found here. A really deep cough that sounds like a barking dog is usually associated with croup, which is caused by a virus that narrows the windpipe and makes it difficult for your baby to breathe. Croup is usually worse at night, but the good news is that it is not very serious and can be treated easily. Contact your doctor to discuss treatment options.

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