Baby Cough and Chest Congestion Home Remedies

Coughs and congestion are very common in babies and young children. Most cases are caused by a virus and simply need to run their course. Occasionally, however, a cough will require prescription antibiotics or steroids to resolve.

Because many over-the-counter cough medications are not safe for the little ones, parents may turn to natural home remedies to provide relief to their children. Fortunately, there are several home remedies you can try to help your child feel better while they recover.

If you believe your child could benefit from a cough or cold medicine, talk to your healthcare provider about how to choose a safe option and dosage. 

Mother with ear thermometer checking coughing child’s temperature

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Causes of Cough and Chest Congestion in Babies

Coughing and chest congestion in babies can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and other factors. 

The Cold and Bronchitis

Many cases of cough in babies are caused by a virus and result in the common cold or bronchitis. These infections usually come on quickly and resolve on their own.

Bronchitis occurs when your child’s airways to their lungs become inflamed and start producing mucus. When the airways known as the bronchi are filled with mucus, your child will naturally cough to break it up and remove it.

Another common cause of cough in babies is bronchiolitis. This occurs when the smaller airways called the bronchioles constrict and make breathing more difficult. 

Croup

If your child’s upper airway is inflamed due to a virus, they may develop croup. Croup is characterized by a tight, barky cough, and it can sometimes cause shortness of breath. It is relatively common in young children and often resolves on its own.

Croup sometimes requires prescription medication to treat, so check with your pediatrician if you suspect your child has this condition. 

Whooping Cough

A cough can also be caused by a bacterial infection. These infections usually require antibiotic therapy to resolve. Bacterial bronchitis and whooping cough (pertussis) are examples of bacterial infections.

Children with pertussis usually have long coughing fits followed by a deep breath that makes a “whooping” sound. Children with pertussis may also have a runny nose, sneezing, and fever. Pertussis is very contagious, so be sure your child is vaccinated.

Post-Nasal Drip

A baby’s cough may be caused by post-nasal drip. If you notice that your child is coughing only at night or while lying down, it may be due to mucus draining down the throat and stimulating the cough reflex.

A persistent cough that never seems to get better may have a chronic cause, such as allergies, asthma, environmental irritants, or cigarette smoke. If your child has had a cough for more than three weeks, check in with your pediatrician. Gastroesophageal reflux can also present as chronic cough in babies.

Home Remedies

Rest and time are usually the best medicine for a baby or young child with a cough. Many viruses need to run their course, so encouraging your child to rest as much as possible is important. 

If the cough is uncomfortable and keeps them up at night, try a home remedy to ease their symptoms. Because most cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under age 6, these natural remedies are a good place to start. 

Humidity

Humidity is helpful for a cough for two reasons. First, it helps to hydrate your child’s sinus tissues. This prevents dryness, which can lead to an increase in mucus production and thus a worsening cough.

Second, humid air helps keep your child’s mucus thin. This makes it easier to cough up and remove the mucus from their systems. To add more humidity to your environment, run a cool-mist humidifier for a few hours each day.

Avoid running a humidifier around the clock since this can lead to continually damp surfaces and mold. Be sure to empty and clean it daily to prevent bacteria buildup.

Breathing in steam is another way to break up the mucus responsible for a cough. Try sitting in the bathroom with your child, next to a hot shower running. Encourage your child to breathe in the steam while you sit together. Try reading a book or even watching a show on your phone to keep them sitting longer. 

Hydration

Just like humid air, keeping your child hydrated will prevent dry tissues and help thin out their mucus, improving their cough. Offer water throughout the day. Broth is another great option; it provides hydration as well as healthy nutrients. Cold juice may feel good on a sore throat. Just be sure to avoid orange juice since the acidity can be irritating. 

To know if your child is staying hydrated, pay attention to their urine. Frequent trips to the bathroom and urine that is the color of light lemon juice are good indicators of proper hydration. For babies, look for frequent wet diapers. 

Suction 

Providing humidity and hydration to your child will keep their mucus thin and easier to remove. For babies and toddlers, try using a bulb syringe to remove mucus from the nose and prevent nasal and sinus congestion.

It may be helpful to administer saline nasal drops first to break up the mucus. Then squeeze the air out of the bulb and place the syringe gently into your child’s nostril. Slowly release your grip on the bulb, allowing air to re-enter and pull mucus into the bulb.

Once removed, squeeze the bulb again and repeat in the other nostril. Continue until you are no longer seeing any mucus come out or if you notice blood in the mucus or nose. 

Do not give honey to a child under 1 year of age since it will not help with a cough and may cause infant botulism. 

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

You know your child best, so call your healthcare provider anytime you’re concerned about their cough. Always seek treatment if your child becomes short of breath or seems to be working hard to breathe.

Call your healthcare provider if your child develops a fever over 102 degrees F. Any fever in infants younger than 3 months should be reported as well. 

If your child develops a tight, barky cough, call your pediatrician. This is a classic sign of croup, which sometimes requires steroids to reduce the inflammation. 

Call your healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Cough lasting longer than ten days
  • Labored breathing (working hard to breathe)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing 
  • Muscle pulling around their neck or rib cage (retractions)
  • Blue tint to their lips, nail beds, or tongue
  • Wheezing or loud breathing 
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unable to eat or drink
  • Seems weak and irritable 

A Word From Verywell

Listening to your baby’s cough is worrying for any parent. It’s helpful to remember that a cough with chest congestion is common in little ones and usually just needs to run its course.

Try home remedies like a cool mist humidifier and saline drops to ease the congestion and provide some relief. Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider if the cough is not improving or your child develops new symptoms. 

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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.
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