how to help a baby with a cold - box of tissues
by Doctor Mummy | 22:15

Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. If you are concerned about your baby’s health consult a healthcare professional.


This is going to be a short post. I’m exhausted. My husband is away so, of course, the kids and I have come down with a horrible cold. My usually great sleepers are essentially tag-teaming being up and miserable all night, thus ensuring that they both get sufficient rest but I get none.


My 3 year old, L, has had a lot of colds in her life so we have the routine pretty much down now, but this is baby J’s first cold and I’d forgotten how heartbreaking it is to see them ill when they’re so tiny!


I’m well-used to assessing sick babies but it feels different when it’s my own, the doctor part of my brain knows it’s just a cold and will pass but the mum part can’t help worrying. So for any other parents out there suffering through their baby’s first cold I thought I’d do a quick guide to how to help a baby with a cold.


Basic principles of a cold

how to help a baby with a cold - box of tissues


We all know that colds are viral, but there are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold, so your baby is pretty much guaranteed to get a cold at some point. Most children get about 8-12 a year as they haven’t yet developed immunity to any of the viruses.


Colds usually get better within about a week, but can last up to two weeks and some unlucky little ones (often those like my baby J with older siblings at nursery or school) can catch another cold almost immediately after the first.


It’s worth making a mental note of whether your baby’s symptoms improved for a few days and then got worse again or not, as the former suggests your baby may have caught a second virus rather than a prolonged cold. A truly prolonged cold lasting over two to three weeks needs assessment by a GP to make sure nothing else is going on.


How to treat a baby with a cold – medications

first aid kit


The good news is that everything you need to treat your baby can be purchased from most chemists so you usually don’t need to wait for a doctor’s appointment.


Saline sprays are really helpful. Basically they’re salt-water sprays that you spray up baby’s nostrils. Aim the spray straight back rather than up as this is the direction of the nasal passages. The spray helps to clear excess mucus from baby’s nose. Most babies hate them at first but then get used to the sensation.


Decongestant rubs and drops (such as Vicks, Snuffle Babe and Olbas Oil) can make a big difference, but different brands have different age ranges so check carefully before buying. J has done really well with Olbas oil in a bowl of hot water left in his room overnight.


Be aware that products like Olbas Oil, whilst very effective, are very dangerous if children swallow them, insert them in to noses or get them in their eyes. Even though they are natural oils, treat them as you would any other medicine. We keep the bottle in the medicine cabinet and the bowl of water on the top of J’s bookcase overnight.


If your baby has a temperature of 38 degrees or higher, or is distressed, you can try giving a dose of paracetamol to relieve pain and fever.


How to treat a baby with a cold – natural remedies

how to treat a baby with a cold - eucalyptus leaves


One of the things I find hardest when the kids have a cold is the night-times. J is usually a great sleeper but since this cold started he has been miserable. Last night he cried for four hours. He just wouldn’t stop crying. It was heartbreaking.


Part of the problem is that when babies have a cold and lie flat the mucus falls to the back of their throat and can exacerbate their cough and irritate them, disturbing their sleep. It can help to put a rolled up blanket under the head end of the cot mattress (not under the baby’s head directly) to slightly elevate the mattress. Never put pillows or blankets in the cot as this is against the safe sleep guidelines.


To help clear the baby’s nose and make them more comfortable you can also try a ‘snot-sucker‘ (nasal aspirator) or the random but effective method of squirting breast-milk up baby’s nose!


Some mums apparently also use the manual method of snot removal and personally suck snot out of their baby’s nose. In the three and a half years L has been alive I have never felt a need to do this, I love her more than life itself but that’s a step too far for me!


A humidifier in the baby’s room at night can also help ease some of the symptoms of a cold and aid sleep. The calpol nightlight and plug-in is also a helpful addition – it releases lavender and chamomile vapours that seem to really help with congestion and sleep. L loves it so much she constantly requests it even when she doesn’t have a cold!


When to get help



Your child should be checked over by a health professional if:

  • He is less than 3 months old with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius, or over 3 months with a temperature greater than 39 degrees Celsius
  • He is getting worse rather than better
  • He has a persistent chesty cough
  • He is feeding less
  • He is having fewer wet nappies
  • He is inconsolably crying and cannot be soothed, for a sustained period of time
  • You are concerned about your baby’s health and well being


Call an ambulance if:

  • Your baby is struggling to breathe – signs include in-drawing of the muscles between the ribs and tracheal tug (see the video below that demonstrates these signs), blue lips, grunting sound when breathing, flaring nostrils, sustained rapid breathing and wheezing
  • Your baby is floppy, drowsy or difficult to rouse
  • Your baby has a non-blanching rash (a rash still visible through a glass when the glass is pressed firmly on the rash)



It’s worth nothing that most children with a cold will simply switch to mouth-breathing instead of nose-breathing, but babies less than about four-months old may not yet have developed this reflex, so young babies with the cold are often especially miserable and make noises that can terrify their parents – trying to suck air through the nose then taking a sudden gasping breath through the mouth.


If your young baby is doing this but the breath they take in through the mouth sounds normal and they have no other worrying features it is usually simply that they have not yet learned to switch to mouth-breathing. If you have any doubt, consult a medical professional.

This too shall pass

hands held in the shape of a heart


It’s so upsetting when your children are ill and heartbreaking to see a baby distressed. Whilst I still hate it when L is ill, at least she can tell me the problem and she knows it will pass. J has no idea why he feels so rough and it’s very upsetting to see him struggling.


It’s also exhausting – I’ve had very little sleep, I’m full of the cold myself and all I want to do is lie in bed and sleep but I’m up every few minutes with the kids.


Do what you need to do in order to survive – last night me, L and J co-slept. It let me be there to soothe them and it allowed me to snatch the odd minute of sleep between one or both of them being up. We’ll be spending today snuggled on the couch watching Disney films as I couldn’t care less about screen-time limits right now.


I hope that you’ve found this guide to how to help a baby with a cold helpful. If you have any questions or other suggestions for how to treat a baby with a cold, please leave me a comment below!

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Great Advice! Definitely a must read article for any new parents and a timely reminder for parents with little kids. Very helpful article. I have just used our humidifier throughout our Aussie winter. Thanks

Oct 02.2018 | 12:26 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Rose, thanks for commenting and so glad that you found the article helpful!

    Oct 03.2018 | 12:42 pm


Hi there,
You describe some really cool advices when it comes to treating a sick baby. To be honest, I would go crazy if I had to deal with a sick baby but I guess it’s just my total lack of experience is talking here. The snot-sucker is a very smart device and I didn’t have an idea that it works so fine.

Oct 02.2018 | 06:20 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Asen, thanks for commenting and glad that you found the article helpful!

    Oct 03.2018 | 12:42 pm


Great post! First of all, you have touched my heart with the love and affection you express. I understand that your a mother but I have seen mothers and mothers. Secondly, the information is of the kind that one can immediately use in a very common situation that involves our most precious beings, our kids. Congratulations and keep up the great work. I have learned something about how to confront children’s colds and a lot about great human beings! Cheers.

Oct 02.2018 | 09:45 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Loannis, thanks for your lovely comment and I’m so glad that you liked the article!

    Oct 03.2018 | 12:41 pm

Robert Hughes

Very informative and helpful post full of sound advice. I hate when kids get ill at the best of times. However, reading this has taken much of the stress and worry out of it, as it is clear what to do. I had no idea that lying back could cause a blockage of mucus. Putting a rolled up blanket under the baby’s head is an excellent idea.

Oct 03.2018 | 06:30 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Robert, thanks for commenting. Glad that you found the post helpful but just to be clear – put a rolled up blanket under the mattress at the head end – never directly under the baby’s head as that would be a suffocation risk!

    Oct 03.2018 | 12:40 pm


This is a great post – thank you for sharing this information! I’m not a mum but this is valuable information for any of my friends who recently become mums. I’ll share this with them as I find it very useful! Thanks for the info and advise!

Oct 04.2018 | 02:10 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Sanna, thanks for commenting and I’m really glad that you found it useful!

    Oct 12.2018 | 09:27 pm

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