Baby cold remedies: Dos and don’ts for babies 3-12 months

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Baby cold remedies help make baby more comfortable while their common cold symptoms resolve. But for the most part you’ll be able to remedy your baby with simple measures and leave medicines aside unless they’re recommended by a doctor. It is only when your baby’s symptoms are caused by something more serious than a cold that you need to use medicine. At other times they do more harm than good – only use them if they are recommended by your doctor.

The dos of baby cold remedies for 3-12 month olds

While medicine is a no-no, there are plenty of simple measures you can take to help your baby be as comfortable as possible, and recover as quickly as possible.


Rest is an important remedy for babies with colds. They need not be in bed and it may be better to put them somewhere that you can comfort them easily if they wake and are upset. Because stuffy noses and other symptoms make sleep difficult for babies, it’s likely they will wake up needing comfort and need a bit more encouragement to get to sleep.

When your baby’s eyelids start to droop and they become fussy and irritable, it’s a good sign that they’re tired. It’s good to put them down to rest straight away, because delaying sleep gives them a chance to get even fussier, which will make it even harder for them to fall asleep.

Continue placing baby on their back when sleeping (unless a doctor has told you to place your baby a different way). Don’t put baby in your bed no matter how much trouble they are having getting to sleep. Adult beds aren’t comfortable for babies and they can be downright dangerous.

When baby is sleeping, don’t rush to comfort them every time they stir. Babies can make quite a lot of noise as they enter lighter and heavier phases of sleep, without waking up. If you hear your baby whimpering or stirring, wait a few minutes to see if they are actually awake.

Relieve nasal congestion

Nasal congestion makes baby uncomfortable and can interfere with breathing, sleeping and feeding. There are some simple measures parents can take to relieve nasal congestion.

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Draining the mucus from your baby’s nose may be necessary, particularly before feeding or sleeping. You should also drain baby’s nose if they have difficulty breathing. Use a blunt-tipped bulb syringe. Suction the air from the bulb by squeezing it, then insert the syringe into your baby’s nose (0.5-1 cm). Hold the syringe in place and release the bulb to suction mucus from the nose. Remove the syringe and pump the bulb to release the mucus. Repeat the process until you have removed the mucus. Wash the syringe with soap and hot water when you have finished. Leave it to air dry.

Nasal decongestant medicines which can be bought over the counter from pharmacies are not suitable for babies or children under six years. Saline (salt water) nose drops or washes should be used instead.

A cool mist humidifier can be used to increase humidity and keep the air moist. Place the humidifier in the room your baby spends the most time in, but not directly above the baby or its cot as it may make the bedding damp and chill baby. Change the water in the humidifier every day to prevent mould building up.

If you don’t have a humidifier, turning on a hot shower and letting it steam up the bathroom while your baby is inside with the door shut, can produce the same effect. The moisture in the air will help loosen the mucus in your baby’s nose and make it easier for baby to cough or release mucus from the nose. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a face washer and putting it in the shower while you steam up the room can also be helpful.

Follow the doctor’s instructions carefully when giving medicines


If a doctor prescribes or recommends over-the-counter medicine, follow the instructions carefully when giving your child the medicine. Never exceed the recommended dose or use any other medicine that the doctor has not recommended. Use a syringe or medicine measure to ensure you give exactly the right amount. If your baby is vomiting or dehydrated check again with your doctor before giving them any medicine.

It is rarely necessary to give your baby over-the-counter medicines to treat a cold. However, if your baby has a fever it may be treated with a fever-reducing medicine suitable for babies. Paracetamol is safe and available as a liquid for babies over one month of age, but only give it to your baby if advised to do so by a doctor. Ibuprofen can be used by babies over three months of age, but should not be used if your baby is not eating properly because it may cause an upset stomach. Aspirin must not be given to babies.

Do not give a baby cough syrup unless it has been prescribed by a doctor. While cough medicines can be bought over the counter from the pharmacy for adults, they are only given for babies with a doctor’s prescription. These rules came into play in Australia in 2008 because of the dangerous side effects some babies taking cough syrup experienced.

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The don’ts of baby cold remedies for 3-12 month old babies

Don’t smoke

It’s important not to smoke around your baby at any time, but this is even more important when baby has a cold. The smoke from cigarettes is irritating and can make a blocked nose or sore throat even worse.

No medicines for baby unless your doctor prescribes them

Do not give your baby medicine unless advised to do so by a doctor. Be aware that all cold medicines are too strong for babies. Some can contain as much as 25% alcohol. Cough syrups should not be given to a baby or child under 2 years of age. Even the ones designed especially for children should not be given to a baby unless they are recommended by a doctor. Don’t be confused by labels which claim they are safe for kids! Cough and cold remedies are responsible for a considerable number of accidental drug overdoses in children and babies. Overdose may cause sudden death in babies.

Natural remedies

Do not give them herbal remedies like echinacea. While these herbs are sometimes used by adults to treat colds, they are not effective in children. They may produce side effects such as skin rash. Vaporub contains strong chemicals which are dangerous if swallowed by a baby. It’s a small risk but it’s best not to use vaporub for babies.


Honey should also be avoided in babies less than one year old. While there is some evidence that it is effective in treating the common cold in older children, in babies less than 12 months of age it has been associated with a severe form of food poisoning called botulism.

Don’t give antibiotics unless there is another infection

Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria. As the common cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not an effective way of treating colds, and they may be dangerous because when used unnecessarily. A doctor will not prescribe antibiotics to treat a common cold, but if your child develops another infection such as an ear infection, they may be prescribed.


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More information on colds in 3-12 month old babies

For more information about baby colds and their causes, see Baby colds.
For more information about the symptoms experienced by a baby with a cold, see Baby cold symptoms.
For information about which babies are more likely to get colds and how to prevent baby colds, see Baby cold prevention.
For more information about when to take a baby with a cold to the doctor, see When to see a doctor.
Baby and mother For more information about how to comfort and look after for your baby when they have a cold, see Caring for babies with colds.
Baby For a quick reference guide to baby colds, see Baby colds: 10 tips for parents.


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Date Created: August 20, 2013 Date Modified: July 13, 2015