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Cold Medicine for Babies: A Guide for Parents

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Hello Sehat · Updated May 13, 2022

Cold Medicine for Babies: A Guide for Parents

When a baby catches a cold or flu, it’s natural for parents to worry. Not only do they get busy calming a fussy baby, but issues on medicine choice might also arise. Since babies can catch the flu eight to ten times in the first two years of their lives, it’s important to know  which cold medicine for babies is safe. 

Medicine for Cold Relief in Babies

The common cold infection occurs when the rhinovirus attacks the upper respiratory tract. Babies and children are most susceptible to colds because they are still developing their immune systems.

Children who catch a cold generally do not experience symptoms in the first 2-3 days. Once the symptoms appear, they might persist for 10 to 14 days. 

If you’re looking for a cold medicine for babies, consider the following:

1. Saline Liquid Drops or Nasal Spray

Saline solution is basically a salt water solution that can moisten the respiratory tract and soften mucus (snot). Doctors recommend this because softened mucus is easier to eliminate, especially with a suction bulb or device. .

When used properly, nasal sprays are often a safe and effective remedy. Read the instructions carefully. If in doubt, consult a doctor.  

2. Paracetamol

Despite not being a cold medicine, paracetamol syrup can help relieve the fever and headache that usually come with the cold. 

One dose is usually 10-15 mg per kg of body weight, but this may vary depending on age and weight of your baby. Give one dose every 4-6 hours as needed. Do not exceed 5 doses in 24 hours. 

When administered correctly, paracetamol rarely causes side effects . Too much paracetamol, however, can cause liver problems. It might also react to other medications. 

Paracetamol is sold over-the-counter, but should not be given to children:

  • Under the age of two months
  • With liver or kidney problems
  • Who are taking epilepsy medication
  • Who are taking TB medicine

As always, the best course of action is to consult a doctor first before giving it to your baby.

3. Ibuprofen

Most parents do not choose ibuprofen as a cold medicine for babies because it’s quite strong (compared to paracetamol). But, if used properly, especially under the doctor’s supervision, it can help relieve fever, headache, and body aches.

Doctors generally prescribe the dose according to the child’s age and weight. Give one dose every 6 to 8 hours as needed. 

Note that babies under 6 months old should not be given ibuprofen. 

Ibuprofen can cause mild side effects, such as upset stomach, indigestion , and heartburn. Usually, the effects of ibuprofen appear 20 to 30 minutes after taking it.

Parents should not give this medicine if the baby has:

  • An allergy to ibuprofen
  • A history of asthma
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • An inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. 

Note: Ibuprofen should not be given to children who can barely eat or feed. It should be administered with food to avoid upset stomach.

Be Careful With Cold Medicine for Babies

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children can catch colds up to 6-8 times a year in the first 2 years of their life.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , cold medicine for babies aged 2 months or younger is not advisable. 

Here are some rules for giving cold medicine to babies and children.

  • Do not give over-the-counter cold medicines to children under the age of two years. 
  • Avoid using cold medicines that contain combinations of substances. The more substances a medicine has, the higher the risks are. For one, certain ingredients may not be suitable for children. Additionally, a variety of substances in one dose increase the risk of side effects and overdose.
  • Cold medicines for children are different to those given to adults. Choose a cold medicine specifically formulated for kids.
  • Always use the medicine spoon provided in the medicine package. A kitchen spoon may be different from the standard medicine measuring spoon.
  • Consult a doctor immediately if your child’s condition does not improve or it gets worse despite medicines.

Cold medicines for children containing codeine or hydrocodone should not be given to kids under the age of 18. Codeine and hydrocodone are opioid drugs that might have serious side effects in kids.

Home Remedies When Babies Have a Cold

Besides cold medicine for babies, some home remedies might also help them recover faster. Consider the following:

1. Continue Breastfeeding

Breast milk is the best cold medicine for babies. Breast milk contains antibodies and other nutrients that boost your baby’s immune system against cold and other viruses. 

Adequate breast milk intake also helps meet the nutritional needs of babies, which is crucial for their recovery. 

If the baby refuses to nurse because they are irritable, pause for a while and try again later. If the breastfeeding strike persists, bring your child to the doctor. 

2. Have a Humidifier

Humidifiers help keep the air moist. Moist air is easier on the nose and throat, which helps your baby breathe better. 

If your child is sick, try not to set the air conditioner in his room until he is completely better. The cold air or temperature of an air-conditioned room can worsen their symptoms because AC makes the air drier.

3. Give Them Fruits and Vegetables

Proper nutrition is an excellent cold medicine for babies aged 6 months and older. If your baby is just starting with solid foods, consider mashing some fruits and vegetables for puree

Fruits and vegetables contain various vitamins and minerals that speed up their recovery and protect them from other illnesses. 

4. Offer Them Honey

Drinking honey can help with cough and sore throat. You can give a teaspoon of honey for the baby to drink, or dissolve honey in tea or warm water.

However, do not give honey to babies under the age of 1 as it increases the risk of infant botulism

5. Give Them Warm Water

When the baby is six months old and above, you can give warm water to help soothe his throat.

This natural cold medicine for babies helps loosen the mucus and prevent dehydration. 

If your little one doesn’t like drinking water, you can work around this by making warm tea, lemon water, or soup. However, do not give them sugary drinks. 

6. Pat Their Back

Gently and slowly patting the baby’s back helps clear chest congestion.

Lay the baby on your thigh in a prone position. Then, gently pat their back with your cupped hand. If your baby is more than a year old, you can pat him on the back when he sits down on your lap.

cold medicine for babies

7. Clean Their Nose

Mucus dries and hardens around the baby’s nose. This, of course, makes the baby feel uncomfortable.

To promote comfort, clean the crust around the visible area of the baby’s nose using a cotton bud or cotton moistened with warm water. Be careful not to push in farther the crusts/debris. Only clean what is visible to you and do not try to reach far inside the nostrils.

8. Give Them a Lukewarm or Tepid Bath

Give your baby a lukewarm or tepid bath before going to bed. In addition to reducing fever, babies can also inhale the minimal steam, which helps loosen mucus in their throat and nose.

When Should You Go to the Doctor?

Usually cold symptoms subside on their own within 10 to 14 days. Still, take them to the doctor if they are:

  • Having difficulty breathing, which can be characterized by bluish lips
  • Fast breathing and/or widening of nose (alae) when breathing and/or abdominal (wavy) breathing
  • Less than 2 or 3 months old. This is because newborns are at high risk of complications from colds.
  • Urinating less than usual
  • Having a fever persistently above 38 degrees Celsius
  • Constantly fussy
  • Complaining about ear pain
  • Having red eyes or eye discharge
  • Coughing persistently 
  • Having thick, green mucus for a few days or blood in their phlegm
  • Refusing to to eat generally. 

Generally, if they don’t get better despite the medicine and home remedies, bring them to the doctor. 

Learn more about Baby Care here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Hello Sehat · Updated May 13, 2022

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