Baby’s First Cold: Tips to Help a Sick Baby Sleep

Baby's First Cold - Tips and tricks to help a sick baby sleep

Updated on January 22nd, 2021 // by Katie Griffin

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Tis the season for sharing!  And unfortunately, sometimes that means sharing your cold with your sweet bundle of joy.  Your baby’s first cold will likely come with some concern, worry, and at least a few sleepless nights for everyone.  Let’s discuss some tips and tricks to help your little one sleep and stay comfortable when cold season strikes.

What is a cold?

A cold is a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract.  Typical symptoms include sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and sometimes a low grade fever.

Since colds are caused by a virus, they aren’t treated with antibiotics and typically just have to run their course.  In babies, cold symptoms usually peak on day 2 or 3 of the illness, and gradually improve within about 10 days (1).

Baby’s First Cold Tip #1:  Elevate Baby’s Mattress

As mucus drains out of the sinus passages, it drips down the throat to either be coughed out or swallowed.  Symptoms like coughing tend to increases at night because baby is lying down and the mucus pools in the back of the throat.

To help the mucus drain, try elevating the head of your baby’s mattress.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be placed on their backs, resting on a firm sleep surface, free of wedges or loose bedding (2).  So, to safely elevate the mattress, consider lifting up the mattress and placing a folded towel under the head of the mattress.  Be sure that the incline is gentle.  If it’s too steep, there is a risk that baby may slump or slide downward with gravity.

Baby's First Cold - Elevate the Mattress

Baby’s First Cold Tip #2:  Suck That Snot

Babies have a powerful way of clearing out their snot when they sneeze.  But if your little one is coughing and spluttering on mucus in between the occasional achoo, you can lend a hand and help suck it out.

Back in the day when my first baby was born, we used a bulb syringe to help remove mucus.  A bulb syringe looks a bit like a mini turkey baster.  You squeeze the bulb to force out the air, place the tip in baby’s nose, and release the bulb.  As air flows back into the bulb, it sucks the snot out of baby’s nose.  Voila.

A few years later, I was introduced to a fabulous little invention called NoseFrida (aka. The Snotsucker).  It’s kind of like pipetting by mouth back in your high school chemistry class.  You place the point of the tube against baby’s nostril and start sucking.  Gross, but effective!  The tube quickly fills with mucus, and a helpful filter prevents the snot from entering your mouth.  With that said, while I’m a big fan of the nasal aspirator, my babies never seem to be quite as smiley when I’m doing it as the baby on the cover of the packaging… 🙂

Baby's First Cold - Bulb Syringe Nasal Aspirator

Baby’s First Cold Tip #3:  Vapor Rub

Do you remember the potent, knock-your-socks-off Vicks vapor rub your mom used to lather you up with?  Well, studies have shown that vapor rubs actually do work.  In fact, even just one application of vapor rub to a child’s chest and neck before bedtime helps relive symptoms of nighttime coughing, congestion, and sleep difficulty (3).

However, the old-school Vicks brand is not recommended for use in children under the age of 2.  So, that’s not much help when it comes to baby’s first cold.

When my oldest daughter was a baby, I applied a chest rub that I had made on my own using essential oils.  To my horror, she developed a blotchy, red rash in response.  While it went away and she had no ill effects from it, it was my last attempt at a home-made vapor rub.

These days, my “safe,” go-to vapor rub for babies is the Honest Company Breathe Easy Rub.  Unless they’ve changed the packaging, it claims to be safe for babies ages 3 months and older.  My 7-month old has a cold right now, and I’ve been lathering it on her chest, neck, and around her throat and ears each night.  It’s definitely strong enough to open up her airways, yet it’s gentle on her skin.  And no freaky, blotchy, red rashes 🙂

Baby's First Cold - vapor rub

Baby’s First Cold Tip #4:  Add Moisture

Saline drops are a helpful way to alleviate baby’s congestion and are generally regarded as safe for kids of all ages. They contain a small amount of salt and sterilized water.  The saline helps to loosen and thin out the mucus, so it can move more easily to the front of your baby’s nose.  After administering the saline drops, suck out the mucus with your bulb syringe or nasal aspirator.

If you don’t want to run to the store, make your own saline solution!  Simply combine 1/2 teaspoon of table salt per 1 cup of warm tap water.  Put 2-3 drops in each nostril (4).

Another way to thin out baby’s mucus is to add moisture directly to the air she breathes.  A cool mist humidifier releases a fine mist of water into the air.  This helps nasal passages to shrink, which allows for easier breathing.  Be sure not to use a warm mist humidifier, which will have the reverse effect.  Nasal passages will swell and make breathing more difficult (5).  Be sure to follow the directions carefully to prevent exposure to mold or bacterial contamination.

Baby's First Cold - Make Your Own Saline Drops

Baby’s First Cold Tip #5:  Keep Em’ Hydrated

Be sure to keep your baby well hydrated with fluids during the duration of his cold.  The more fluid your baby drinks, the thinner his mucus will be.  The thinner the mucus, the more likely it is to drain out of his sinuses easily.

Both breast and bottle-feeding can be difficult to pull off when baby has a stuffy nose.  This may call for shorter, more frequent feedings.  If necessary, try using saline drops and a nasal aspirator beforehand.

Baby’s First Cold Tip #6:  Use OTC Medicines Cautiously

When it comes to over-the-counter medicines with a baby, you must be incredibly cautious.  Consult your pediatrician for a list of safe medicines and doses for your baby’s age and weight.  Acetaminophen may be helpful to reduce fever, aches, and pains.  As a rule, never give a baby a combination cold medicine (5).

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(1)  Hockenberry, M., Wilson, D.  (2008).  Wong’s Nursing Care of Infants and Children, Edition 9.  pg 1225.

(2)  American Academy of Pediatrics.  (2011).  AAP Expands Guidelines for Infant Sleep Safety and SIDS Risk Reduction.  Retrieved from

(3)  Paul, I.Beiler, J., King, T., Clapp, E.Vallati, J., Berlin, C.  (2010).  Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms.  

(4)  American Academy of Pediatrics.  (2011).  Simple remedies often best for common colds in young children.  Retrieved from

(5) Food & Drug Administration.  (2016).  Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids.  Retrieved from

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Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

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Updated on January 22nd, 2021 // by Katie Griffin Tis the season for sharing! And unfortunately, sometimes that means sharing your cold with your sweet bundle of joy. Your baby’s