When your baby is sick, you want to make them feel better, but over-the-counter cold remedies are not safe for babies. The FDA has approved these medicines only for children over 2 years old.

There is little more distressing than to see your baby feeling sick. While most of the colds your little one gets will actually build their immunity, it can be difficult to see your baby feeling less than 100 percent.

When your child is showing signs of a cold, you want to make them feel better and quickly. You may even be tempted to rush right out to pick up some medicine from the store. Is this the right answer though? Are cold medicines safe for babies?

In short, you shouldn’t. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests avoiding any over-the-counter cold medications until your child is at least 4 years old. (Prescription cough medications with codeine aren’t recommended by the FDA for anyone under 18 years old.)

Cold medicines can have serious side effects, like slowed breathing, which can be especially dangerous for young children and infants.

Many cold medicines also include more than one ingredient. This combination of ingredients can interfere with or prevent the use of other medications in young children.

Even if you could give your little one cold medicine, there are no medications that will cure a cold. Medications — like decongestants — available over the counter will only treat cold symptoms, and for children under 6 they have not even been shown to do that.

Thankfully there are some non-medication remedies you can try at home to alleviate symptoms — and below we’ve got a list if you’re in need of a few ideas!

While over-the-counter cold medicines may not be appropriate, if your little one has a bacterial infection and not just a cold virus, they may need prescribed antibiotics.

These should not be prescribed in all cases as it’s important not to use antibiotics for a viral cold infection. The antibiotics won’t kill the virus, and their body may build up an immunity to antibiotics which will make antibiotics less effective in the future.

If you’re worried because it seems like cold symptoms are lingering longer than expected or getting worse, a trip to the doctor to rule out the need for antibiotics is definitely appropriate, though!

Your little one might have a cold if you are seeing these symptoms:

  • a stuffy and/or runny nose
  • trouble breastfeeding or bottle feeding due to nasal congestion; the pacifier might not be as soothing as usual if your baby is having a hard time breathing through their nose, too
  • low-grade fever below approximately 101°F (38.3°C)
  • chills or clammy hands
  • coughing — and potentially chest pains as a result
  • sneezing
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping

Symptoms of a cold can look a lot like less intense flu symptoms. They are generally the same symptoms as ones you would see in an adult.

In addition to wondering whether or not you can give their child cold medicine, you may wonder when your child might need to go to the doctor for a cold. Make an appointment with your pediatrician if:

  • Your child is refusing to eat and losing weight or shows signs of dehydration.
  • They have trouble breathing.
  • Your child is tugging on their ear repeatedly or appears to have an earache.
  • Their fever is higher than 101°F (38.3°C) for more than 24 hours (or for any fever if they are under 3 months old)
  • Symptoms worsen or persist for more than 10 days.
  • Your child seems very sick or you feel that symptoms are lasting too long or are too severe. If you are concerned, you can always take your little one in to ensure that everything is OK.

It’s important to keep close records of certain facts to share with your child’s doctor. (This info will also help you to determine if you should take your child to the doctor.) You should track:

  • Onset of symptoms. When did your child start having a runny nose, not want to eat, etc.
  • Fevers. How long and at what temperatures?
  • Wet diapers. Is this number substantially below normal and does it look like your child is having enough fluids passing through their system?

While there isn’t a lot you can do to solve a cold besides treat your baby’s symptoms, there are lots of ways to help reduce the symptoms you are seeing with home remedies.

  • With doctor’s approval, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers to help alleviate fevers or discomfort.
  • Keep the liquids coming! Breast milk, formula, water or Pedialyte can all be consumed when your child has a cold to help keep them hydrated. Check with your child’s doctor about the amount of water or Pedialyte they feel is safe if your child is under 1 year of age. For babies under 6 months with colds, breast milk and/or formula is often all that is necessary.
  • If breastfeeding, continue to nurse. Not only does breast milk hydrate your baby, but it includes important immunity-boosting properties. (Continuing to pump or breastfeed is also important to ensure that you don’t end up with painful clogged ducts or mastitis. One illness to deal with is enough!)
  • Suction mucus or boogers out of your little one’s nose if they’re not able to blow them out just yet. While your baby will likely fuss in the moment, they appreciate it after when they can breathe better and possibly even get some sleep!
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to add some moisture to the air while your child rests.
  • Use saline drops to help clean out your baby’s nasal passageways.
  • Give your child a warm bath. Just make sure to have plenty of towels and warm clothing to bundle your child up in after they get out.
  • You can try a teaspoonful of honeyafter your child has reached 1-2 years or older.

It can be difficult to see your child under the weather and struggling to eat with a runny nose. As a parent, it’s natural to want to make your child feel healthy again as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, when it comes to colds, you may have to be patient for a few days and just focus on easing the symptoms as much as possible while the cold runs its course.

As always though, if you’re worried about your child’s health, don’t hesitate to consult with their doctor. Even in situations where medicines are not appropriate, your child’s healthcare provider will be able to provide ideas for things to do that may minimize the length or severity of the symptoms.