3 Home Remedies for a Baby's Cough and Chest Congestion

Simple home remedies for a baby's cough and chest congestion include:

  • Breathing in steam or humid air
  • Keeping your baby well hydrated
  • Using suction to clear air passages 

These methods can be especially helpful since most cough and cold products are not indicated for kids under age 4 due to the risk of side effects. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't recommend use of such medications in kids under 2.

This article reviews each of these home remedies and why they work, as well as what causes coughs and congestion in babies and when you should get medical help instead of treating your child at home.

Mother with ear thermometer checking coughing child’s temperature

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Home Remedies For Your Baby's Cough

Rest and time are usually the best medicine for a baby or toddler's cough. Try to get them to rest a lot while the virus runs its course. 

Coughs can be uncomfortable, though, and they may keep your baby from sleeping well.

Let's take a look at how the aforementioned home remedies can safely help ease their symptoms. 

Humidity

Humidity helps a cough in two ways.

  • Helps hydrate the sinus tissues: Dryness can lead to more mucus and a worse cough.
  • Keeps your child’s mucus thin: This makes it easier to cough up.

A cool-mist humidifier running for a few hours each day can be a big help.

Don't use a humidifier around the clock. Constantly damp surfaces can grow mold. Empty and clean the humidifier every day to prevent bacterial buildup.

Breathing in steam is a good way to break up mucus and ease a cough. Run a hot shower and sit outside of it with your child. Have them breathe in the steam. Keep them entertained with a game, book, or other calm activity so they'll stay there for a while.

Hydration

Keeping your child hydrated also thins mucus and prevents dry tissues. Good hydration options include:

  • Water
  • Broth
  • Juice

Avoid orange juice as the acidity can irritate their throat. Milk isn't a good choice because it can increase mucus production. 

To know whether your child is well hydrated, pay attention to their urine. Frequent bathroom trips and light-colored urine are good indicators. In babies, look for frequent wet diapers. 

Do Not Use Honey

Do not give honey to a child under 1 year of age. It won't help with a cough and may cause infant botulism (food poisoning). 

Suction 

A bulb syringe can help remove mucus from your child's nose. That can prevent nasal and sinus congestion. To use one:

  • First, use saline nasal drops to help break up the mucus.
  • Then squeeze the air out of the bulb.
  • Place the tip gently into your child’s nostril.
  • Slowly release your grip on the bulb. (As air re-enters, it pulls mucus into the bulb.)

If the mucus is too thick to suction, thin it with a few drops of saline. Continue until you no longer see mucus coming out. Stop right away if you notice blood in the mucus or nose. 

Doing this before meals can help a congested baby eat better. However, suctioning more than four times a day can irritate the nasal passages.

What Could Be Causing My Baby's Cough?

Coughing and chest congestion in babies can be caused by:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Post-nasal drip 

A virus just needs to run its course, but symptoms can be eased with home remedies. These options can also help bacterial infection symptoms, but these cases may also require prescription antibiotics or steroids.

Post-Nasal Drip

A baby’s cough may be caused by post-nasal drip. That's when mucus draining down the throat stimulates the cough reflex.

This can occur due to an infection, allergies, or even exposure to an irritant like dust.

Post-nasal drip is likely if your baby only coughs while lying down.

Colds and Bronchitis

The common cold and bronchitis are common viral infections that make babies cough. They usually come on quickly and resolve on their own.

Bronchitis occurs when the bronchi (airways) become inflamed and make mucus. Your child then coughs to break up the mucus and get it moving. Sometimes, bronchitis is bacterial and needs antibiotics.

Your baby's cough may also be due to bronchiolitis. This occurs when smaller airways (bronchioles) tighten and make it hard to breathe. 

Chronic Cough Causes

A persistent cough that doesn't seem to get better may have a chronic cause, such as:

Croup

Croup is caused by inflammation in the upper airway. It's usually due to a virus. Fairly common in young children, it often resolves on its own.

Croup causes a tight, barky cough. Your child may also be short of breath. In rare cases, croup can be bacterial and require prescription medication. So check with your pediatrician if you think your child has croup. 

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection. It typically causes long coughing fits followed by a deep breath. That breath makes the “whooping” sound the condition is named for.

Other symptoms may be:

  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fever

Pertussis is highly contagious, so be sure your child is vaccinated.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Symptoms that always warrant a call to your child's healthcare provider include a cough plus:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Working hard to breathe
  • Wheezing or loud breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • A blue tint to their lips, nail beds, or tongue
  • Any fever, if under 3 months old
  • A temperature over 102 degrees F, if over 3 months old
  • An inability to eat or drink
  • Weakness
  • Irritability

You know your child best. Call your healthcare provider anytime you’re concerned about them.

Summary

A baby or toddler may cough due to viral illness (the common cold, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, or croup) or bacterial infection (whooping cough, and some cases of bronchitis and croup). Post-nasal drip can make them cough when lying down.

Home remedies include a humidifier, proper hydration, and a bulb syringe. Call your healthcare provider if your child has concerning symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

It's unsettling to hear your baby cough. Remember that it's common and will likely go away before long. Do your best to make your little one comfortable.

And never hesitate to call their healthcare provider if symptoms are concerning, get worse, or you just feel like something is wrong. They can tell you what course of action is best and put your mind at ease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can I give my baby for congestion?

    Saline drops and a bulb syringe can help clear nasal passages. Avoid the use of cold/congestion medications in kids under 4.

  • Can I use Vicks VapoRub on a baby?

    No, do not use Vicks VapoRub on children under 2. Vicks makes a special formula for babies called Vicks Baby Rub. It's safe for babies over 3 months old.

  • Can a baby suffocate from a stuffy nose?

    It's rare, but possible. To help your baby breathe better, hold them upright. If they still struggle or have any other warning signs (e.g., blue tint to the lips, labored breathing, or wheezing), get immediate medical attention.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Should You Give Kids Medicine for Coughs and Colds?

  2. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. Humidifiers and health.

  3. Seattle Children's Hospital. Coughs: Meds or home remedies?

  4. Yildiz Y, Yavuz AY. Complementary and alternative medicine use in children with asthma. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2021 Mar 14;43:101353. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101353

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Coughs and colds: medicines or home remedies?

  6. Morgan JR, Carey KM, Barlam TF, Christiansen CL, Drainoni ML. Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute bronchitis in children and impact on subsequent episodes of care and treatment. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2019;38(3):271-274. doi:10.1097/INF.0000000000002117

  7. Kinkade S, Long NA. Acute bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(7):560-565.

  8. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Cough in children.

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.