'Tis the season for the sniffles! And your little one will likely suffer from a cold sometime in her first winter. While it can be tempting to break out the big guns when your little one is suffering, it’s important to remember that babies can’t handle the same cold remedies that work for us grown-ups. Many adults don’t think twice about treating runny noses and hacking coughs with over-the-counter medicine, but we have to be much more careful with babies.

When Can a Baby Have Cold Medicine?

The FDA strongly advises against giving over-the-counter cold or cough medicine to children under the age of 2. And in most cases, it’s recommended to avoid using these medications until children turn 4! Current evidence even points out that cold and cough medicines do not help cold symptoms and may pose health risks for your infant.

Here are cold and cough medicines that you should never give your infant.

Cold Medicines You Should NEVER Give to Your Baby:

1. Over-the-counter zinc nose spray or drops.

Zinc spray or drops may damage the nerves in the nose and hurt your baby’s ability to smell.

2. Honey in anything for babies under 1.

While honey is believed to have medicinal benefits that help alleviate adult coughs and sore throats, in babies it poses a potentially fatal risk. Honey may contain bacteria that can cause infant botulism...so hold off on giving your little one the sweet stuff until after she turns 1!

3. Vicks VapoRub.

Chest rubs can get in the eyes and be VERY irritating. Plus, a 2009 study found it actually increased mucus production and inflammation. For babies and toddlers, that means it may worsen their breathing.

4. Cough and cold medicines for children under 4.

Research shows they don’t help little kids much, but they have the potential for serious side effects and overdose.

What Medicine Can I Give My Baby for a Cold?

As mentioned above, over-the-counter medications pose risks to your baby. So what can you give your sniffling sneezing little love bug?

I recommend the following cold remedies for your baby:

  1. Nose Washers
  2. Nose Suckers
  3. Humidifiers

Read more about these and other baby cold treatments.

An FYI about antibiotics:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised doctors against prescribing antibiotics for viral respiratory illnesses, like sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis. They don’t work, and they lead to antibiotic resistance in the community, which can harm us all. In fact, 23,000 people die in the US from infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

On the other hand, getting the flu shot can really protect a child—as well as the rest of the household—from getting slammed with high fever and chills…or worse!

If your baby does get a cold, try these safe, natural remedies instead. Stay healthy!

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.