profile picture of Anita Chandra-Puri, MD
Anita Chandra-Puri, MD

Colds In Babies

How to treat baby’s cold and what to do if it gets worse.

Baby has caught a cold—now what? Plenty of parents have questions about how to spot a cold, how long colds last in babies, what the best remedies are and when you should head to the doctor. Read on for everything you need to know about colds in babies.

What is a cold like for a baby?

If baby has a cold or upper respiratory infection (URI), he or she may experience symptoms like a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or a low-grade fever. Baby might have a loss of appetite and become some irritable. But don’t worry—if baby has a cold without complications, he or she will start to feel better after seven to 10 days.

What could be causing my baby’s cold?

Colds are pretty common in infants and young children. Babies have smaller air passages in the nose, ear and throat areas, which can cause them to have trouble breathing. They also have weaker immune systems, which can make them more susceptible to colds. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), your child might have about eight to 10 colds in the first two years of life, because colds spread easily among children—especially for kids who go to day care or have older siblings. Colds are caused by viruses, so to prevent babies from getting a cold, keep them away from anyone who’s sick and make sure you sanitize whatever they come into contact with frequently (we promise, you’re not being overprotective!).

When should I take my baby to see the doctor about a cold?

If your child is younger than 3 months old, you should contact your pediatrician, because baby’s immune system isn’t strong enough yet and she’s more susceptible to croup or pneumonia. At the first sign of a cold, talk to your baby’s doctor. Newborns may also have a hard time breastfeeding or bottle-feeding if they’re congested, which could lead to dehydration. You’ll want to monitor baby’s condition frequently (no matter the age) because you’ll need to bring her to the doctor if she’s dehydrated (signs include low energy, fewer wet diapers and dry mouth and skin), struggling to breathe, has a cough that doesn’t go away or has a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

What should I do to treat my baby’s cold?

You can use a humidifier or suctioning bulb to clear baby’s congestion and make him feel more comfortable. Keep him hydrated at all times. If baby has a headache or sinus pain, you can place a warm washcloth on his forehead for a couple of minutes at a time. Cold medicine is not recommended for children under 4 years old—according to the AAP, it doesn’t benefit young children, and there’s a greater chance of overdosing if it’s combined with another product. But for babies 2 months and older, you can give them acetaminophen, or for babies 6 months and older, you can give them ibuprofen, to reduce aches and pains. And you can give kids over 1 year old some soothing liquids, like a little bit of honey with warm apple juice, to help with the congestion and sinus problems. The bottom line: Caring for a baby who has a cold takes a lot of TLC and patience.

Updated December 2016

Plus, more from The Bump:

My Baby Get a Flu Shot?

Why Does Baby Have a Chronic Cough?

What Are Some Cold Medicine Alternatives for Babies