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Baby health

The best baby cold remedies—and the ones you should avoid

There may not be a cure for the common cold, but there are ways to help your baby feel more comfortable.

The best baby cold remedies—and the ones you should avoid

Photo: iStock/RyanJLane

No matter how careful you are, your baby will probably end up with a cold before their first birthday. Nothing can prepare you for that gunky nose, those red-rimmed eyes, that near-constant cough... It can break a parent’s heart.

Though colds aren’t usually serious, they’re no fun to get through, either. But there's help! We've rounded up the best baby cold remedies to help weather these seasonal bumps in the road, plus the treatments you should use carefully or avoid altogether.

01Steamy bathroom

Good for: Loosening up a stuffy nose and helping baby breathe more easily. Try it when your baby is uncomfortably congested.

How to do it: Turn the bathroom into a steam room by running the shower on hot for 10 to 15 minutes while holding your baby outside of the shower. Get as comfy as you can—you’ll probably sit on the closed toilet seat.

Pro tip: This works well for nasal congestion. But if your baby has hoarseness, wheezing or a persistent cough, check in with a doctor to ensure you’re not dealing with a more serious respiratory infection.

water tap with hot water steam nikkytok/ Getty Images

02Saline drops or mist

Good for: Helping to clear a stuffy nose if your baby is having trouble feeding or sleeping because they can’t breathe through their nose. These rely on the power of salt water to tackle trouble breathing.

How to use: Buy either saline drops or a spray in any drugstore or grocery store—those designed for babies are easier to use. Squirt two or three saline nose drops up baby’s nose to soften and dilute the snot so they can breathe easier.

Pro tip: The drops tend to be gentler on babies than the spray, but either works for mucus and bacterial infection.

Try this: hydraSense Baby Nasal Care Ultra-Gentle Mist

Father giving his baby girl nasal drops ArtMarie/ Getty Images

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03Snot sucker

Good for: Clearing out a stubbornly clogged nose when saline solution on its own doesn’t work. (You can also use a bulb syringe, also called a suction bulb, to release nasal mucus when you squeeze the bulb.)

How to use: Supporting baby’s head, insert two or three drops of saline in one nostril. If you’re using the suction type, squeeze the air out of the bulb of the sucker before placing the tip just inside your baby’s nose. Then let go and the suction should pull out most of the snot. Other snot suckers are designed for caregivers to suck the snot out with a tube.

Pro tip: While you can use saline as often as needed, you should suction only two to three times a day to avoid irritation.

Try this: Fridababy NoseFrida Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator

Closeup mother hand with aspirator medical tool cleaning runny nose of cute infant newborn baby boy son at home indoors. Baby parent health care and love concept Kyryl Gorlov/ Getty Images

04Pain reliever

Good for: Making your baby more comfortable. It can also bring down a fever. (The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all babies under six months with a fever should be seen by a doctor.)

How to use: Check with your doctor before giving ibuprofen to babies under six months. For both ibuprofen and acetaminophen, follow directions carefully and use the included syringe to get an accurate dose. If your baby isn’t a fan of the squirt, you can add the meds to a small amount of formula or breastmilk or, for older babies, food like fruit purée.

Pro tip: Fevers can make babies and young children fussy and uncomfortable and make it hard to sleep. Time doses so everyone gets some sleep.

Baby feeding with liquid medicine hilllander / Getty Images

05Honey

Good for: Coating the throat and suppressing coughs in children over 12 months old.

How to use: Give your kid over one-year-old a teaspoon or two at bedtime to help calm their cough.

Pro tip: Honey is one of the few natural remedies shown to work in studies. Choose unpasteurized honey for an extra antiviral boost to the immune system.

Wait! Never give honey to babies under 12 months old because it can cause infant botulism.

Woman hand holding glass jar of honey arto_canon/ Getty Images

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06Saline nose wipes

Good for: Breaking down dried, stuck-on boogers without irritation and wiping away dirt and germs.

How to do it: Open the lid and remove seal. Then gently use saline nasal wipes for babies to break down dried, stuck-on boogers and wipe away dirt and germs on baby’s face, hands and body. Dispose of the wipe and close the lid tightly to retain moisture.

Pro tip: Though it may seem these wipes are only for runny noses and to loosen mucus, they’re great to have on-hand in the diaper bag for messes.

Try these: Boogie Wipes Gentle Saline Nose Wipes

Mother helping son to blow his nose filadendron/ Getty Images

Products you should be cautious about

Vicks BabyRub

You may recall your mom rubbing Vicks VapoRub on your feet when you had a cold and be tempted to do the same with your baby, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the regular version of Vicks VapoRub contains camphor, which is extremely toxic if ingested.

Vicks BabyRub, on the other hand, doesn’t contain camphor—but it also doesn’t contain any other medicinal ingredients that can relieve congestion and isn’t marketed as a product for colds. However, there likely isn’t harm in using this on your baby if you follow the manufacturer’s directions. It’s not meant to be used on babies under three months.

Mother massaging her baby boy on bed hxyume/ Getty Images

Humidifiers

Humidifiers add moisture to the air in your house, which can help keep snot and mucus from drying out and relieve congestion. However, the Canadian Paediatric Society doesn’t recommend parents use humidifiers—both hot and cool mist humidifiers can breed mold and bacteria if they are not washed thoroughly each day.

a little girl in red pants looks and touches the humidifier. Moisture in the house concept kmk-vova/ Getty Images

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Avoid these products altogether

Cough medicine

This is not recommended for babies (or any children younger than six). According to Health Canada, there is no evidence over the over-the-counter cough and cold medicine is effective, and they can cause harm when misused or overused. The same goes for natural cough medicines because natural ingredients can still cause dangerous side effects and allergies.

Girl taking cough syrup from her parent at home StockPlanets/ Getty Images

Homeopathic treatments and essential oils

There are many cold remedies on pharmacy and health store shelves labeled as homeopathic, but these, like other natural health products, are not as strictly regulated as pharmaceuticals. “There is no convincing evidence that they work, and they may pose a risk,” says Kulik.

Essential oils are another popular home remedy, but they can be toxic. C.J. Blennerhassett recommends against using them in a baby’s humidifier or anywhere near a baby because no studies demonstrate their value or safety.

Woman holds bottle with spa cosmetics JulyProkopiv/ Getty Images

When to see a doctor

If you see these symptoms, you should call your doctor:

1. Not drinking much or excessive vomiting or diarrhea. Dehydration is dangerous.

2. Listlessness or a decreased level of alertness. If they aren’t responding like they usually do and they’re excessively sleepy, something might be wrong.

3. A fever above 38°C (100.4°F), taken rectally. Bring your baby over three months in if the fever isn’t brought down by pain relievers or lasts longer than three days. A baby under three months with any fever should be seen.

4. Constant crying. Baby shouldn’t be inconsolable.

5. Difficulty breathing.

Baby at the pediatricians GeorgeRudy/ Getty Images

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This article was originally published on Jan 25, 2022

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