Okay, mama. We know. A baby cough can be alarming. So on the scale of 1 to Freak Out, how worried should you be?
(Yes, this is yet another important thing they definitely should have put in the owner’s manual for your baby.)
The ins and outs of the newborn cough
A newborn cough is generally a sign that your baby’s tiny little body is working as it should. We humans generally cough to clear our airways—a pretty awesome design that allows us to get rid of anything obstructing our air intake.
But here’s the deal: your tiny baby’s new immune system is factory-fresh. Newborns are far more susceptible to infections and irritants than we more “vintage” human beings are. Thus, the coughing.
So when should you worry about your baby coughing? Let’s take a look.
Why is my baby coughing?
First step to decoding the baby cough? Think of asking the same question as you would of a diaper: is it wet or dry?
A wet cough in babies typically brings up mucus, while a dry cough does not. You may have heard a wet cough referred to as a productive cough, i.e. it “produces” mucus.
With that in mind, here are some common causes of baby coughs. Notice that some involve a dry cough, and others involve a wet cough.
Newborn cold: Remember the part about their brand new immune system still working out how to do its job? Babies catch colds really easily—as in up to 10 times in a year. So, very common, yes, but still scary to mamas when it happens.
Symptoms of a newborn cold include congestion and cough, with the cough often coming at night. Other symptoms of a newborn cold include fever, general fussiness, and trouble sleeping. Bottle and breastfeeding can also be a challenge.
Flu: If those cold symptoms are accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, your little one may have the flu.
Allergies or irritants: There is so much in the world that can set your baby coughing—exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke, urban smog. If you notice that your baby’s cough is quite dry and persistent, this may be the reason.
Asthma: If your baby’s cough is dry and they seem to be working very hard to get air, this could be a sign that they have asthma. They may also be wheezing and panting. Because these symptoms are common in a range of different infant ailments, check-in with your doctor to see if asthma is indeed a possibility.
Bronchiolitis: Usually caused by a virus, bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the bronchioles, which are the little branches of the airway passages in our lungs. Bronchiolitis can look a whole lot like the common cold, but your baby might also be wheezing heavily, or their breathing “doesn’t seem right.” If this is the case, it’s a good idea to call your doctor. While bronchiolitis is common, it can be serious in some cases.
Croup: If your baby has a barking cough, it could be croup. Why this sound? A croup cough means that the lining of the windpipe is swollen, which can get in the way of air flowing to the lungs. This kind of cough also usually comes from a viral infection and can make it hard for your little one to breathe. While croup is common and can clear up on its own, if you are worried, or your baby’s cough is not going away, check with your doctor.
Pneumonia: In some cases, the common cold (or other bacterial or viral infections) can progress to pneumonia. Pneumonia means a wet cough that may produce greenish-yellow mucus. It’s also accompanied by severe fatigue and a possible fever. Get your little one to the doctor as soon as you can if this is what you suspect.
How do I get rid of my newborn’s cough?
Because there are so many different causes of baby coughing, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. For the most part, though, steer clear of over-the-counter cough and cold medication until your baby is over 2.
If your baby has a viral infection (like the type that is responsible for colds), it should run its course. There are a few things you can do to help your baby breathe easy:
- Moisture is your friend. Either running a humidifier or sitting in a steamy room can do wonders.
- Up the fluid intake. This can be really challenging if they’re not too keen to feed, but do what you can. (With a newborn, focus on lots of breastmilk or formula rather than water, which can be dangerous for young babies.)
When should you worry about a baby cough?
Luckily, most coughs in newborns can be managed at home. But if you’re worried about your newborn baby cough, check in with your healthcare provider. And definitely give the doctor a call if your baby is experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Blue in the face
- Trouble breathing
- A cough that won’t go away over a period of weeks
- A cough that lasts a few hours at a time
- Any signs that they are dehydrated, such as not peeing as much
- Coughing up blood or dark green mucus
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- A really high fever (100.4°F) that won’t break
A coughing newborn can be a tough situation, but you’ve got this, mama! Your doctor is there to help, and you can also call on the Peanut community if the coughing is causing you a lot of stress—we’ve all been there!