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Baby cold symptoms
Cold symptoms include:
- Runny nose with clear mucus that may thicken and turn gray, yellow, or green
- Mild coughing
- Low-grade fever (but not always)
If your baby is younger than 3 months, call your doctor at the first sign of illness or any time she has a rectal temperature of 100.4 or higher.
How can I tell if my baby has a cold and not the flu, allergies, or some other illness?
How your baby looks and behaves can be telling: If she has a runny nose, cough, and possibly a low-grade fever, but plays and eats as she usually does, it's probably a cold.
How long do colds last in babies?
Cold symptoms typically peak on day two or three when babies have a cold, then gradually improve over 10 days to two weeks.
If your baby has cold symptoms longer than a couple of weeks, or her symptoms are getting worse instead of better after a few days, call her doctor.
Remedies to ease baby cold symptoms
No medicine will make a virus go away faster, but you can help your baby feel better and prevent the infection from getting worse by making sure he gets plenty of rest and liquids. For children age 1 and younger, that usually means offering more frequent feedings (whether breast milk or formula).
For safe ways to soothe your baby's cold symptoms, see our article on home remedies that really help, including how to ease breathing by using saline and suction, and adding humidity to the air.
Caution: While honey is often recommended for cough relief, never give it to babies under 1 year. Honey can put your baby at risk of infant botulism.
Continue to follow safe sleep practices
You may have heard anecdotally that having your baby sleep more upright can ease her congestion, but it's important to stick to these safe sleep guidelines:
- Put your baby to sleep on a firm, flat surface, never on an incline, which increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation.
- Don't let your baby sleep in a car seat, bouncy seat, or swing – even strapped in – at home. It's not safe.
- Never use a pillow or a sleep positioner to prop up your baby. And don't raise the head of her mattress by placing anything underneath it.
- Don't put anything under the legs of the crib to prop it up.
When my baby has a cold, is it safe to give over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicine?
No. OTC cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These medicines aren't safe for children this age and can have dangerous or even life-threatening side effects. There's also no evidence to show that these medicines are effective in children of any age.
If your baby is feverish and seems uncomfortable or unusually fussy, ask your doctor about giving him infant acetaminophen (if he's at least 3 months old) or ibuprofen (if he's at least 6 months old).
Never give your baby aspirin because it makes him more susceptible to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening complication.
When should I call the doctor about my baby's cold?
For babies younger than 3 months old, call the doctor:
- At the first sign of illness
- If your baby has a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
For babies 3 months or older, call the doctor if your baby has cold symptoms and any of the following:
- For babies between 3 and 6 months, a rectal temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- For babies 6 months and older, a rectal temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Symptoms that get worse or don't start to improve after a week
- Dry, hacking cough or severe cough
- Unusual crankiness or fussiness
- Poor appetite
Also call the doctor if your baby has:
- Signs of dehydration, such as going more than six hours without a wet diaper
- Signs of an ear infection, such as ear tugging or ear drainage
- Symptoms of pink eye (conjunctivitis), such as redness of one or both eyes and the lower rim of either eyelid, plus a thick discharge
- Any symptoms or behavior that concerns you, even if it's not specifically mentioned above
When to seek emergency medical care
If your baby shows any signs of respiratory distress, seek immediate medical care (talk to the doctor, call 911, or go to the ER):
- Turning blue
- Rapid breathing (more than 60 breaths a minute)
- Head bobbing with breathing
- Rhythmic grunting with breathing
- Flaring nostrils with breathing
- Sucking in the skin above the collarbone or between or below the ribs
- Whistling, coughing, or wheezing with breaths
- Sunken fontanels (the soft spots on your baby's head)
If your baby is not waking up or interacting, or shows signs of serious dehydration, seek emergency medical care (call 911 or go to the ER).
What can I do to reduce the number of colds my baby gets?
Minimize your baby's exposure to germs and boost his defenses with good health habits:
- Hand-washing. Make sure family members and friends wash their hands before picking up your baby. This is particularly important around newborns. And make sure you wash up too – especially after changing diapers and before preparing food.
- Stay away from sick people. To the extent you can, keep your baby away from sick children and adults.
- Cover mouth when coughing or sneezing. Teach family members to not cough or sneeze near the baby and to use a tissue (and then discard it) when they cough or sneeze. Alternatively, have kids cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm.
- Keep your baby hydrated. Breastfeed or bottle-feed frequently. When your baby starts eating solids, you can give him a little water as well. (Don't give him juice. The AAP advises against giving fruit juice to children younger than 1.)
- Keep your baby's toys and pacifiers clean. This is especially important if others play with his toys.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. This can put your baby at higher risk for upper-respiratory problems, so stay clear of cigarette smokers, and keep your baby away from areas where someone has been smoking. Children who live with cigarette smokers have more colds, and their colds last longer than those of children who aren't exposed to smoke.
- Breastfeed for as long as you can. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for a year to get the most health benefits of breast milk. Although it's not a fail-safe guard against infection, studies have shown that breastfed babies get sick less often than formula-fed babies because the antibodies in breast milk protect against a wide variety of germs.
- Keep shots up to date. Vaccinations won't protect your baby from getting a cold, but they can prevent more serious infections.
Why does my baby get so many colds?
Babies get a lot of colds because their immune system is immature, making them more vulnerable to illness. Also, more than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold, and your child develops immunity to them one at a time.
A growing baby explores a lot and grabs everything, so it's easy for his hands to come in contact with a cold virus. Someone with a cold in close contact with him can also expose him to the virus. He can get sick when he puts his contaminated fingers in his mouth or nose, or rubs his eyes. Even breathing the air after someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or talks can spread the virus.
Your baby may get sick more often during the fall and winter months because cold viruses are more widespread during that time of year. He also spends more time indoors during cold weather, and close quarters mean viruses can spread more easily from one person to another.
Babies and toddlers typically get about eight to 10 colds each year, and children who go to daycare may have even more. (When they go to primary school, though, children who went to daycare have fewer colds than those who didn't.)
How to use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to clear a stuffy nose (video)