Natural Remedies for Coughs in Babies

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If you’re the mother of a child less than a year old, and your child develops a cough, what are you to do? That is the question that I found myself asking just five months into my baby’s life, when my mother-in-law moved out and we put our baby into day care. The week after, the little Apple started coughing. The reason that this is a dilemma is that a) the FDA warns against the dangers of using OTC cough medications in children under four years old (not that I would use conventional medicines anyway, as a naturally minded mama); and b) we’re told that we cannot give the baby honey due to the potential risk of contracting botulism, which rules out many homeopathic remedies sold at health stores as well (such as Children’s Chestal Honey or Children’s Chestal Berry, which are both labeled for children 2 and older).

Okay, so what about herbs? Well, I didn’t want to use those either. As part of my herbalist training, we were taught not to give herbs to children under two years old because their livers have not matured enough to process many herbs’ active ingredients. So other than letting the cough run its course (which can seem like you’re just helplessly standing by as your precious infant hacks up a lung), what can a natural, holistic Mama do to help?

To make things interesting and to add to our collective knowledge and wisdom of remedies from different natural healing disciplines, I asked this very question of 3 different practitioners: Dr. Marcel Hernandez, a pediatric ND (a naturopathic physician), Dr. Jay Apte (an Ayurvedic doctor), and Anne Dugan, LAc, an acupuncturist/practitioner of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). I found some of their responses to be very surprising! Here is what they suggested:

Naturopathic Remedies for Coughing Babies

Dr. Marcel acknowledges that treating cough in children under 12 months is difficult, but these are his recommendations:

  • Lots of fluids, especially breastmilk
  • Cool mist vaporizer at night with Eucalyptus essential oil
  • Lots of nursing to keep the mucus fluid, not stiff
  • Try homeopathy for coughs and colds (the pellets, not the honey-containing syrups). Dr. Marcel recommends this page as a good summary of homeopathic cough remedies. Lisette Narragon, CHC, BRCP, has also guest-blogged on Holistic Mamas about specific homeopathic remedies for whooping cough (which is what my daughter ended up having).
  • If congestion is present with the cough, take the child into the bathroom, run a hot shower until the room gets steamy, and sit in the steam with the child to help loosen lung congestion.
  • Give the child a warm bath with essential oils of Eucalyptus, Sage, or Rosemary.
  • Make your child an herbal rub with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a couple drops of one of the above-mentioned oils, especially Rosemary. (Note from me: according to my Aromatherapist training, about 8-10 drops of the essential oil for 4 tablespoons of carrier oil). Rub the child’s chest and back, then cover or swaddle.

Ayurvedic Remedies for Coughing Babies

My little girl battling whooping cough at 6 months. She looks happy in this picture, but would cough to the point of vomiting just a few minutes later.

Dr. Apte wrote:

  1. For dry cough: Boil ½ tsp of licorice powder in a cup of water for 2-3 minutes. Pour it in a thermos and feed the baby 1 tsp off and on. (Licorice being demulcent will help in dry cough).
  2. For both dry and wet cough: Boil ½ tsp turmeric in a cup of milk for 2-3 minutes. Add ½ tsp brown or raw sugar. Feed the baby this milk off and on. (Milk should be hot – not boiling, but hot).
  3. For dry cough: Add ½ a tsp brown sugar in a cup of hot water and feed this water off and on.
  4. For wet cough: Add a small stick of cinnamon, 2 cloves, a pinch of ginger powder, a tsp of brown sugar in a  glass of water and boil it for 2-3 minutes. Pour it in a thermos and feed this tea off and on.
  5. For cough with phlegm: 1 cup hot water, a pinch of dry ginger powder, and a tsp of honey. <== (Note from me: I was surprised by the addition of honey to this remedy. When I asked her about it, she said, “In India, we give honey even to a newborn baby.”)
  6. Make these teas before going to bed and put them in a thermos so they come in handy in the middle of the night.

That’s interesting! I guess the restriction on herbs and honey for infants goes out the door in Ayurvedic medicine. I wonder what other contradictions exist between the disciplines?

Coughs in Babies: A Perspective from a TCM Practitioner

Anne Dugan was the most conservative of the three. She said:

I cannot in good conscience say “if a baby under the age of one year is coughing, give them _____.” Coughs are different, as are babies. Those differences would mean different treatments in Chinese medicine. Unlike Western herbology, Chinese herbology works in formulae, not single herbs, and adjusts the formulae according to the differences in not only the patient and the disorder, but according to the stage to which the disorder has advanced. Each formula is individually crafted from variable information.

The safest & most effective way to treat a baby that age is to give the herbs to the mother & let the baby get them from the breastmilk.

I think I would prefer to treat the mother with food and essential oils and the child with hand and/or auricular therapy done without needles if the situation wasn’t severe, or with needles if necessary. I’d have to see the child and the mother personally.

While Anne did not want to give remedies, I did learn from her response that as a breastfeeding Mom, you can take the potent herbs yourself and then let them pass through to your child via your breastmilk. Sounds like a great idea to me!

Question for my readers: Did your baby get a cough while they were still less than 12 months old? What did YOU do? Please share in the comments!

About Mare

is a Master Herbalist, Certified Aromatherapist, and enthusiastic natural mommy to a beautiful tot of 2, the Little Apple. She shares her parenting adventures (sometimes mis-adventures) via this blog.
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10 Responses to Natural Remedies for Coughs in Babies

  1. Mare thank you very much for placing this post on Natural Mothers Network’s linky. You quite obviously took some time to research this and the findings are really interesting and should be really helpful for mothers with young babies who develop a cough. Thank you for sharing this with us! You helped make Seasonal Celebration a wealth of intelligent, creative and resourceful information and it’s been such a pleasure for me and many others to read through each post. I am really looking forward to seeing you again this Sunday evening or Monday! Rebecca x

  2. Hi Mare, :)

    This would be a really great post to share with Wildcrafting Wednesday. I really hope you’ll stop by and share with us.

    Thanks!
    ~ Kathy

  3. Drinking plenty of water is the easiest solution and a must if you want to know how to stop a cough.  Start giving your child a lot of drinking fluids to get rid of cough.

  4. wence says:

    Drinking lot of water is the best espcially warm water.keep baby warm

  5. Kat says:

    Sorry I’m quite a newbie in this field… question is– where can i buy essential oils? i see a lot of articles in regard to using different types of essential oils for different purposes but do not really know where to purchase them… please help thanks!

  6. Chalu says:

    Quick note to Anne Dugan’s note “I think I would prefer to treat the mother with food” (to treat the child); The same applies in Ayurveda, the mother is normally asked to watch what she eats/drinks as it affects the baby directly. Thus the mother would eat/drink specific foods to help in lactation and what goes in the milk to the baby… and she would also watch what not to eat so the baby keeps good health, like ice cream.. in our case our first born would get a cold everytime the mother caught a cold. treating both was the usual approach. have learnt quite a few things after two babies now., Cheers!

  7. Resel G.Torres says:

    Hi mare,

    I have a 4months old baby girl.my husband and i worried, because our baby got a cough for the 1st time..In our family blood we have an asthma on my father side,and i having it when i was 4 to 7 yr. old…isn’t possible that my baby have it to?cOz she’s my 1st baby..and wat is the best remedy for this case?thank you….

    • Mare says:

      Hi Resel,

      Thank you for writing. I’m sorry you’re experiencing such anxiety and stress. I would suggest you visit a pediatric ND or holistic pediatrician (MD) to better understand your baby’s cough. As an herbalist, there is nothing much I can suggest for a child under two, given the inability of their livers to process many herbs. As an Aromatherapist, I would not suggest using essential oils on so young a child without understanding more about the situation. I would suggest you see a doctor and get a diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis, someone like me can suggest essential oils or other potential “remedies” as paths for you to research. But without that, I really hesitate to suggest anything. You can also contact the practitioners I have listed in the blog post directly for advice, if you like.

      All the best,
      Mare

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