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Family Matters: Safe cold and flu relief for babies


As a parent, it’s heartbreaking when your baby is coughing, sneezing, crying and clearly suffering from the symptoms of a bad cold.

Of course you want to offer relief. But even though it may seem tempting to give a suffering baby just a tiny bit of cough or cold medicine intended for older children, there are extremely good reasons you should never do so without seeking the advice of your doctor first.

First, a refresher is in order, especially if you did not have an infant at the time the rules changed: Over-the-counter cough and cold products for infants under age 2 were voluntarily removed from the market by manufacturers in 2008, responding to concerns raised by the Food and Drug Administration. Now, even cold medicines for older children carry a warning that they are not to be used in children under age 4.

The new rules apply to products containing these decongestants:

  • Ephedrine
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Phenylephrine

They also apply to these antihistamines:

  • Diphenhydramine
  • Brompheniramine
  • Chlorpheniramine

There had been numerous reports of illness and even some deaths in children under age 2 who had been given these products, according to FDA reports. Often, this was due to misuse or over-dosage by caregivers who may have misunderstood label instructions.  In addition, these medications have little effect on the duration or severity of an infant’s cold symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is important that parents do not attempt to modify doses of medications meant for older children and give them to infants anyway. For instance, do not attempt to guess what a “safe” dose of a children’s cough medicine would be for your six-month-old.

Instead, seek a physician’s advice for any symptoms that seem particularly severe, especially for infants under three months of age. For babies three months and over, you should probably call your doctor if a cough lasts more than a week, a fever hovers at 102 degrees or your child refuses fluids.

In the meantime, attempt to bring relief with other, safer remedies, approved by the FDA:

Infant formulas of acetaminophen or ibuprofen: Usually provided in a liquid form administered by droppers, these medicines can be used to reduce fever, aches and pains. Choose your favorite name brand, or select store brands/generics that provide precisely the same medication at a cost savings. Acetaminophen is considered safe for babies over three months, and ibuprofen is considered OK for those over 6 months.

Cool mist humidifier: This can help baby’s swollen nasal passages shrink, allowing for easier breathing.

Plenty of clear fluids: Staying well-hydrated will help flush cold viruses out of your baby’s system faster.

Saline nose drops or spray: Helps relieve stuffy noses by thinning out mucus. In children under one year, you can try combining nasal drops with a bulb syringe or aspirator, to suck out excess mucus. (Children over about age 1 often actively protest any attempt at suctioning.)


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