Colds & Congestion

Expert Tips & Videos

Baby Colds & Congestion Tips

Colds are very common in babies as their immune systems fight off viruses and pollutants. They often last 7-10 days, which can feel like an eternity. Like for adults, telltale symptoms include runny nose and congestion, but this can be especially bothersome in babies & toddlers because they have tiny nostrils, so even a small bit of mucus can clog them up; they can't blow their nose as effectively as we can, if at all; and they can't take a decongestant medicine to help (this is not recommended until 6+ years). Your baby may have a decreased appetite, cough, watery eyes, or fever as well.



Hydration thins mucus & soothes sore throats

<6 months: Offer breastmilk or formula frequently

6+ months: Water, Pedialyte, and popsicles are also options

Chest rub

Chest rubs contain expectorants, which are ingredients that loosen mucus in chest & throat

Rub a small amount on baby’s chest and/or back (never on face) and only use chest rubs made for babies

For babies <2 months, check with your doctor first

Baby wearing

Keeping baby upright can help drain mucus

Try babywearing for naps if that's an option for you


Steam helps break down congestion

Run a cool-mist humidifier in baby’s room while they're sleeping

Place close to baby but safely out of reach


Sleep is important for recovery

This is not the time to sleep train; let your baby sleep as much as they want!

Steamy bathroom

Turn on a hot shower, close bathroom door, and hang out with baby in steamy bathroom for 10-20 minutes

Doing this before using a nasal aspirator makes it easier to baby's clear nasal congestion

Saline & nasal aspirator

Give 1-2 saline drops or spray per nostril to loosen mucus; if you're going to suction next, wait a few minutes to let the saline work first

Use nasal suction (bulb syringe, NoseFrida, electric nasal aspirator) to suck mucus from nose

Good times to do this: before sleeping and eating

Suction only as needed (< 4X a day) to avoid irritating nasal passages

When is it more than “just a cold”?

RSV & Bronchiolitis

What is it? RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common and contagious virus that can sometimes cause bronchiolitis, an infection in the lower respiratory tract.

How do I know? In many cases, symptoms are similar to those of a cold. In other cases, children experience wheezing or difficulty breathing, which is caused by a narrowing of the bronchioles (the smallest airways in the lung) due to the virus.

What do I do? Call your pediatrician to assess the severity of the case and your child’s needs. Most cases are mild and children can recover on their own at home (see Congestion and Fever Cheat Sheets). Moderate to severe cases may require breathing treatments like a nebulizer.


What is it? Croup is an illness that causes inflammation in the upper airway. The same viruses that cause the common cold can cause croup.

How do I know? It is characterized by a barking cough, hoarse voice, and/or "stridor" (a high-pitched squeaking or whistling sound caused by air passing through a narrow or inflamed airway).

What do I do? Call your pediatrician to assess the severity of the case and your child’s needs. Most cases are mild and children can recover on their own at home (see Congestion and Fever Cheat Sheets). In addition, keep your child as calm as possible because crying can worsen symptoms. You can also try standing for a few minutes at a time in front of an opened freezer door or a cracked window if it’s cold out, as cold air can help ease symptoms. Moderate and severe cases sometimes require doses of an oral steroid and/or breathing treatments such as a nebulizer.

When to call your pediatrician

You don't need to check any of the boxes below – call whenever you have any questions or concerns about your baby!

<3 months old with fever (≥100.4°F)

Call your doctor right away as this could be a sign of a serious infection

Do not give medicine before baby is seen

Any age with any of these signs or factors

Fever that is high (≥104°F) or lasts >24 hours

Baby is working hard to breathe (signs: belly is going up and down quickly or chest is pulling in with each breath, especially around the collarbone; or baby is breathing so fast they can’t drink)

Nonstop crying or unusual drowsiness

Dehydration (dry mouth, no tears, no urine for >8 hours)

Symptoms last >10 days or are worsening

Baby has a barking cough

Baby is unusually drowsy or hard to arouse

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