32 Natural Remedies for Colds,
Congestion, Coughs, and Fevers in
Infants (Newborn to 6 Months)
Having a baby who is sick and unable to breathe well can be incredibly scary for parents. Because babies are obligate nose breathers, it is very important to help them clear their airways. And because they are still so small (and often still have a virgin gut), we don’t want to use anything unnatural to help their bodies fight off illness.
Below are natural remedies for helping your newborn get over congestion (colds), coughs, and fever. If you have any other natural remedies, please let me know in the comments so I can add them to the list.
- Breastfeed Often So Baby Is Hydrated: Make sure baby is getting enough milk. She may need to nurse more often than usual, because she may not get as much at each feeding. Why? If she is congested, she will not be able to breathe as well while nursing, so she may tire out and not empty your breast as much as usual.1 If your baby is not breastfed, keep him hydrated with whatever formula he is used to drinking. “Don’t give straight water to babies younger than 6 months; their kidneys can’t process it correctly and an electrolyte imbalance may occur.”2
- Give Expressed Breastmilk from a Cup, Dropper, or Spoon: If baby is having a lot of trouble nursing, consider expressing your milk and giving it in a cup, dropper, or spoon – especially in an infant younger than four weeks so as to avoid nipple confusion. For more, see Kellymom.
- Breastfeed So Baby Receives Antibodies: Breastmilk is rich in antibodies specific to baby’s environment, and this is why breastfed infants “contract fewer infections than do those who are given formula.”3 But what I find even more fascinating is that once your breastfed infant (or child) does get sick, her saliva actually influences the content of your breastmilk! “[I]f a baby contracts an illness that mom has not been exposed to previously, he will transfer this organism through his saliva to the breast, where antibodies are manufactured on site and then sent back to the baby via the milk to help him cope.”4 So keep breastfeeding your sick baby, your body is actively working to make her healthy!
- Squirt Breastmilk in Baby’s Nose and/or Eyes: Breastmilk’s antimicrobial properties can also help baby when you squirt it into baby’s nose. If the cold settles in baby’s eyes, you can also squirt breastmilk into her eyes to help clear up the infection.5
- Use Nasal Suction: Babies cannot clear their nasal passages by themselves, so parents need to gently assist them. And instead of using the old-fashioned nasal bulb, that can hurt the delicate linings of your baby’s nose, try one that does not go inside the nostril. I’ve used the NoseFrida for years and love it. You can squirt some saline solution or breastmilk into baby’s nose to help loosen up the mucus before sucking it out.
- Coconut Oil: Use your finger to gently rub liquid coconut oil in/around baby’s nostrils. Be sure not to put solid coconut oil in the nose, as you do not want to inhibit breathing. You can also rub coconut oil onto baby’s body.
- Visit Your Chiropractor: A properly adjusted spine can help with clear respiration, and regular chiropractor visits can actually help prevent colds.6
- Use a Humidifier and/or a Pot of Water on the Stove: Especially in winter when our air is much dryer, putting moisture in the air is essential for helping moisten and heal the sensitive linings of baby’s nose. Keeping the nasal passages moist helps thin the mucus, easing congestion.7 So use a humidifier and get a pot of water simmering on the stove for added moisture.
- Try Steam Treatment: Along with using your humidifier, really make an effort to let baby breathe that steamy air. You’ll often hear people say to steam up your bathroom – but that takes time and a lot of hot water. Instead, get a towel and drape it over your head and baby’s head (cradled on your chest in a carrier) while standing over your warm air humidifier. Or have your partner help you get some water hot and steamy in a big stock pot, set the pot on a lower surface like a kitchen table (safely – you don’t want to be at risk of spilling or knocking into it), then drape the towel over you and baby. Be sure to stay under the blanket with baby – you need to know how much steam baby is exposed to. Steam can burn – don’t overdo it!
- Sleep Upright: Help your baby sleep upright, so the mucus can drain. You can sleep securely in a chair or on the bed propped up against pillows, holding baby against your chest.
- Nurse Upright: Kellymom has a tutorial on some good positions for nursing upright.8
- Carry Baby Upright: Try not to let baby spend too much time on his back. Wear baby in an upright position to help mucus drain – many mamas like stretchy or woven wraps in the early months.
- Consider Probiotics for Mama and Baby: There is evidence that regularly taking probiotics can decrease a baby’s chance of respiratory illness.9 Kellymom has an article about how to give babies probiotics.
- Diffuse Essential Oils: There are quite a few essential oils that can aid in relieving congestion. You can either put some in a room diffuser, or put a few drops in your pot of water. Remember, never use any essential oil directly on baby. The essential oils that are good to diffuse to help with congestion are: Cedarwood, Clove, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Lemon, Melaleuca (ericifolia), Peppermint, Rosemary, Sandalwood, and Thyme.10 Add some lavender to help baby relax. See Essential Oil Remedies for Children: What to Use for more on EOs, and for more on the basics of using essential oils, see Essential Oil Remedies for Children: The Basics.
- Make a Chest and Feet Rub from Essential Oils: Alternatively, add one or more essential oils to a carrier oil and run some on your baby’s feet or chest. A few that should be safe to try are eucalyptus, lemon, and sandalwood (peppermint is not recommended).11 Again, add some lavender for its relaxing properties.
- Sinus pressure massage: With firm but gentle pressure, run your fingers just under baby’s cheekbones to help relieve sinus pressure. This YouTube video shows massage techniques on an adult to relieve congestion.
- Get Skin to Skin: Don’t put baby down, try to keep her in arms or a carrier, and give her as much skin to skin contact as possible.12
- Try a Natural Vapor Rub: There are vapor rubs available with natural ingredients. My favorite is from The Natural Newborn.
- Take a Walk: When your baby has croup, her airways have become irritated and swollen, causing that nasty barking cough you hear. Cool air can help reduce the swelling and ease your baby’s cough.13
- Humidify the Air: As with congestion, moisture in the air can help ease your little one’s airways and reduce coughing.
- Use Essential Oils in a Room Diffuser: Essential Oils good for coughs are: Eucalyptus, Lemon, Marjoram, Ravensara, Rosewood, Sandalwood, and Thyme.14 See the essential oils section above for more information on diffusing essential oils.
- Sleep, Nurse, and Carry Baby Upright: As discussed above, keeping baby in an upright position will help relieve coughing.
- Keep Baby Hydrated: Keep nursing as much as possible to keep your little one hydrated – that will help the airways remain moist and will pass along mama’s antibodies.
- Rub Vapor Rub on Baby’s Feet: Put some natural vapor rub on baby’s feet, then put socks on him.
It is recommended that if a baby under 3 months has a rectal temperature higher than 100.4 degrees, consult your doctor immediately. For babies older than 3 months, consult a doctor if the rectal temperature is higher than 104.15
- Breastmilk: Again, breastmilk is so important for a sick baby. For a baby with a fever, you want to keep him hydrated with a plentiful supply of breastmilk (or whatever formula he normally drinks).
- Take a Lukewarm Bath: Climb in the bathtub with baby – keep the water warm, but not too warm.
- Stay Skin to Skin: Infants kept skin to skin are better able to regulate normal body temperature.16
- Diffuse Essential Oils: EOs good for fever include Lavender and Peppermint. Add a few drops to a diffuser or pot of water.
- Apply Diluted Lavender Oil: Dilute lavender oil in a carrier oil and massage baby on the back of her neck, feet, and behind her ears.17
- Give Her Cold Feet: Put some cold, wet cotton socks on baby (water or vinegar), then pull some wool slippers or socks over them to help bring down a fever.
- Vinegar Sponge Bath: Give baby a cool sponge bath with water or vinegar.18
- Onion in Socks: Cut large slices of onion and put them in baby’s socks (use an older sibling’s socks so they fit). When the onion turns brown, the fever should be down.