Natural Remedies for an Infant Cough

By Erica Loop
Ease your baby's cough with steam, saline or a warm liquid.
Ease your baby's cough with steam, saline or a warm liquid.

Your baby is barking, and she’s not mimicking her favorite animal. She has a cough, and you both want it to go away. You may not want to go the drugstore medication route, however. While you should always follow the doctor’s orders, you can try a natural remedy as long as the pediatrician gives permission.

Cough Causes

Not all coughs have the same cause. Allergies or a viral infection, such as a cold, may cause a dry cough. A wet, phlegmy cough usually means your baby has a bacterial infection. An at-home remedy may not cut it when it comes to bacterial infections. Your child may need antiobiotics to get rid of the infection. Common illnesses that cause coughs include pneumonia, bronchiolitis and the flu.

Respiratory syncytial virus – or RSV – is another cause of coughs in infants. RSV symptoms in babies include a cough, wheezing, runny nose, loss of appetite and decreased activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your baby continues to cough, is having difficulty breathing or has other symptoms such as a fever, call your doctor immediately.

Croup is another possible culprit behind your baby's cough. It is the result of a viral infection, and causes a barking cough.

Consult a Professional

Before trying any natural remedy, consult your baby’s doctor. This allows an expert to evaluate the cough and diagnose the cause. Tell the doctor of your plans to treat your baby naturally. Ask for his medical opinion and follow his advice. Some remedies are not safe or appropriate under certain conditions. For example, if your baby has bacterial pneumonia, he needs a doctor-prescribed antibiotic to clear the infection.

Fluids and Phlegm

The cough and cold medicines that your parents gave you as an infant are no longer available at the local drug store. As of 2008, cough and cold medicine manufacturers are no longer allowed to sell products for children under age 4, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This means that natural remedies are your only option other than doctor-prescribed medications.

If your baby has a cold, the flu or a cough from another type of virus, a cool mist humidifier is a non-medical choice that makes breathing easier with a dry cough. You should also keep your baby hydrated. This helps to break up mucus and may ease a phlegmy cough.

Saline Spray

A saline nasal spray and a bulb syringe can suck the excess mucus out of your baby’s nose, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This keeps your baby’s nasal passages moist and clear. When your baby’s stuffy nose is gone, less mucus drips down his throat. This results in decreased coughing.

Vapor Rub

As long as your baby is over 3 months, you can try a natural vapor rub to ease her cough. Even though many commercially prepared vapor rubs have camphor and menthol, these aren’t safe for children under age 2, according to the website BabyCenter. Instead, try a mix of plain petroleum jelly and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Slather this in a thin layer on your baby’s chest so she can breathe in the vapors. Ask your pediatrician before using any type of vapor rub, even baby-safe versions, to make sure you use the right one for your baby.

Warm Liquids

Even though chicken soup won’t really cure your baby’s cold, it can help his cough. Warm soup broth or weak chamomile tea are natural soothers that can help your 6-month or older baby. Never use hot or boiling water or broth. This can burn your baby’s mouth.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.