It was like clockwork around November that my husband came home from a work trip looking run down with obvious cold symptoms. Our son was 6 months old and I had a feeling he would soon be dealing with the same cough and chest congestion that afflicted my husband.
In less than two days, I was flipping through my repository of books in search of effective home remedies for baby cough and chest congestion. This virus was strong and I wasn’t ready.
Any illness in the family is annoying but colds in babies can be straight up scary. The hard part is your pediatrician has there hands tied when it comes to viral infections. Antibiotics won’t work and the best they can do is prescribe rest and fluids.
Fortunately for us moms, there is A TON we can do at home to support our little one’s body to fight viral infections quickly and efficiently.
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As a quick disclaimer before we get started…
If you are uncomfortable and unconfident with your ability to diagnose and manage serious conditions, you would do well to consult your pediatrician.
Doctors are wonderful at recognizing pathologic conditions and you should never put your child in jeopardy if you are not confident in your ability to be at their beck and call 24/7.
Managing infections often call for us to be on our complete A-game! As in, checking temperature, monitoring breathing rates, and looking for signs of dehydration around the clock.
I know most moms are willing to do this.
There are certain instances that would warrant a call to a naturopathic physician. If you don’t have one yet you can search the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ directory.
- Extremely high fevers
- Dry mucous membranes
- Sunken fontanel
- Vomiting or diarrhea that will not stop
- Respiratory rate consistently over 60 breaths per minute
- Retractions or pulling in of any area of the chest that shows bones
As I said before, viruses cannot be killed using antibiotics and the symptoms that come along with them are a result of the bodies defense mechanisms kicking in.
Mucus production and cough are evidence of an intact immune system and should not be suppressed with conventional medicine. This will delay the healing process.
Seeing these signs should ease your pain a little bit because you know your baby’s body is doing its best to protect itself. Mucus is made to expel the dead white blood cells and dead viruses that have battled it out.
The reason we see things like a runny nose or productive couch is because this is how the body takes them from the inside to the outside. Suppressing this with “medicine” only keeps the sickness inside longer.
Related: Home remedies for fever management
Even still, it isn’t easy seeing your infant have trouble to breath. We moms have a number of home remedies at our disposal to support our babies’ little bodies. This is what we will discuss in this post.
Home Remedies for Baby Cough and Chest Congestion
1. Homemade garlic ointment
It may sound gross to mask your sweet baby’s smell with homemade garlic ointment, but garlic has strong antimicrobial properties. It is a triple threat to pathogens, killing bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. It also helps to clear up chest congestion. (source)
For optimal power against the common cold, the garlic you use to make this ointment should be organic and fresh. Rub the ointment on your baby’s feet and chest and cover the feet with socks.
I do this at night because that is when it is most practical and less likely for my baby to kick off her little socks.
To make homemade garlic ointment:
- Peel 7 cloves of fresh organic garlic and place in a food processor
- Add 1/4 cup of coconut oil and process until smooth
- Store in the fridge through cold and flu season
2. Breastfeed as much as possible, (all day if you must)
A significant concern with any childhood illness is the risk of dehydration from a fever, not the actual fever itself. Fever is body’s natural defense to burn out harmful pathogens. Please don’t suppress a fever with Tylenol!
Related: Best home remedies for reducing fevers
Babies who are sick should be allowed more time to nurse and mothers should avoid eating foods that could be irritating to the GI tract. These include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards as they can cause the buildup of gas. Also, try to avoid spicy foods and caffeine.
Both nursing mamas and babies need to increase their intake of fluid during family illnesses. Mamas should load their body with immune boosting foods such as vitamin C and living probiotics (should be from a liquid source like this) so they can be passed along to your baby.
You may find it hard for your little one to nurse when they are coughing. If you are worried your child is not getting enough fluids you can pump and syringe feed breastmilk.
If your baby is six months old and has tried solid foods, you can also give them homemade bone both. This is an excellent way to rehydrate them and provide nutrients in addition to breast milk.
3. Steam baths
Growing up my mom always drew up a steam bath for us whenever mucus was involved. It is still my go-to remedy and does a wonderful job at loosening mucus and soothing congested airways.
For babies older than 3 months, it is safe to use a few drops of Lavender and Tea Tree essential oil to the bath.
Lavender essential oil is a calming sedative that will help with sleep and relaxation. It also helps to reduce coughing spasms.
Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties and helps to clear mucus.
To make a steam bath, turn the shower on the hottest setting and let the bathroom steam up with the door closed and vent off for 5 minutes. Then fill up the tub with warm water and add the oils.
Get in the bath with your baby and hold her on your chest in an upright position for around 15 minutes. This will dilate blood vessels and help to clear out mucus.
Related: How to use essential oils for fevers
4. Pat your baby gently
With your hand in a cupped position, gently pat your baby like you would if you were burping throughout the day. The vibrations will spread throughout the chest, help break up the mucous and make coughing more effective.
This tactic is even used in the hospital for patients with pneumonia who have a lot of congestion. It is most effective after a steam bath when the heat has loosened the mucus.
5. Echinacea tincture.
Echinacea tincture is always good to keep stocked in the medicine cabinet because when used at the first sign of any illness, it is known to lessen the intensity and duration.
It can be safely used for babies and children by following the dosing recommendations on the bottle. I added two drops to my breastmilk and used a syringe to dose my son. Dr. Sear’s recommends using echinacea for prevention during the cold and flu season.
6. Homeopathy for chest congestion and cough
By far the best way to support your infant through her cold is when homeopathic medicines. These remedies are specific to particular symptoms and need to be administered accordingly.
For example, you would use Antimonium tart when your baby is overwhelmed with chest congestion and having a difficult time breathing. Their cough will sound rattled and their little lungs seem full of phlegm.
If you have dry cough with a feverish chilly child, who feels worse after exposure to cold; and is overly sensitive and irritable, you would use Nux Vomica.
I used these two examples to show that homeopathy is SYMPTOM SPECIFIC. This is natural medicine you can buy over the counter at Whole Foods or your local health food store. It is powerful stuff if you know how to use it.
Anyone can learn because there are so many resources out there but if you chose the wrong remedy it will have no effects.
There are many other very effective remedies that provide swift relief for chest congestion and cough in babies. I recommend keeping a copy of The Family Guide to Homeopathy on hand as a resource to find the correct remedy that matches your baby’s specific symptoms.
I also recommend reading the book Homeopathic Medicine for Children and Infants from cover to cover if you truly want to know how to treat your children’s afflictions at home. There is more in this book than I can describe in a single blog post.
7. Skin to skin
It goes without saying that you should hold your baby when they are sick. But often times it seems that we keep such a busy life and only when illness strikes do we take a second to slow down.
Warmth is very soothing for a sick baby and you may find that breathing is easier in an upright position. This makes a mama’s bare chest the optimal place for a sick baby to be.
If you have a busy toddler to run after, you can still offer your baby the comforts of skin to skin by using an infant wrap to baby wear throughout the day. Keeping life simple and allowing for extra rest will help your little one heal quickly.
Colds are a normal part of growing up and your baby’s immune system is getting plenty of practice for a lifetime of health.
Make sure to take care of yourself when you are caring for sick children by consuming immune boosting foods and supplements.
You probably won’t be getting as much sleep so give your body some extra love with some echinacea and elderberry tea!
The depth of information here is invaluable. My premature baby who’s now 15 weeks actual (10 weeks adjusted) has RSV and I’m so worried about him. I’m now making the garlic paste as we speak at 1am lol. Thank you!
This was so informative. Thank you for taking the time to write all of these things out!
I’m so glad it helped!
Thank you!! Just found your page and love you already. Dealing with croup in my 4 year old and trying to be proactive with my baby. Thanks for the info!
I truly loved this Blog it has helped me use the naturalist ways as possible when my daughter is sick!
I am so glad it is helping you! I love that we can find healing for our little ones using safe natural remedies 😉
I’m loving the naturalist ways but can these remedies be used on a 6week old infant?
My baby has a bit of chest congestion and wanting to try the garlic and coconut oil ointment.
Lola, You can definitley use the garlic oil remedy on your baby. There are studies that show it decreases the duration of viral illnesses. The one thing I would do is to dilute the oil more. Instead of using 7 cloves of garlic, just use 2 cloves with 1/4 cup of olive oil. The biggest concern would be for the raw garlic to be too strong for your baby’s sensitve skin so just use a little bit and keep an eye on it! Homeopathy is safe for pregnant woman and infants!
I tried the steam bath with my 4 month old with tea tree oil. I didn’t know it wasn’t safe to put her in the water and it irritated her labia and now it’s all red and she screams when we wipe her. I feel so bad. Just a warning to other moms.
I am so sorry to hear your little one reacted badly to the tea tree oil bath. Going forward a couple options could be:
1. Ultra dilute any oils you use
2. Test the diluted oil on a very small part of her skin such as a dot on the calf to make sure there won’t be a sensitivity (don’t ever patch test on their hands since they rub them on their mouth and face)
3. Put 2 drops of tea tree oil on a wet warm washcloth and hang in on the side of the tub while you do a steam bath. This will allow the oils to dissipate in the air but not touch the skin.
4. Steam baths are still a great way to moisten irritated and dried out mucus membranes and can be done without any oils all together. You can then follow this up with the gentle back pats which will help break up the mucus from the lower airways so she can cough it out.
Hope she gets better soon!