What to do if your baby or child has a cold

It can be so hard to see your little one(s) sick during the fall and winter season. During the first year of life, most babies will have 6-8 colds, more if they are in childcare centres. Colds usually last 1 week and symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, and congestion improve. Coughs may last up to 3 weeks (post-viral cough).

Symptoms & Treatment

Most respiratory (colds or upper respiratory) illnesses are from viruses so there is no cure (no antibiotics) except time and supportive measures. This means sleep, nutrition (soups for sore throats and fluids to prevent dehydration from fever), and comfort measures like cool-mist humidifiers or honey to soothe a cough if over 12 months old.

Fever, sore throat, and muscles aches can be treated with infant or children's liquid acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin over 6 months of age). Please triple check weights and dosages as per bottle instructions.

It may be tempting to give your child a cough suppressant or other over-the-counter medication. Over-the-counter medications (such as Benadryl, NyQuil) should not be given to children under 2 years of age. These medications can sometimes cause a paradoxical response leading to hyperactivity or irritability.

Do not give cough and cold medications to babies and children under 6 years old without first talking to your health care provider. The only exceptions are drugs used to treat fever such as acetaminophen (any age), or ibuprofen (over 6 months). Source: Using Over-the-counter Drugs to Treat Cold Symptoms by Caring for Kids (Canadian Paediatric Society).

These are signs and symptoms for when to see a doctor through emergency or urgent care (source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration):

  • A fever of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in an infant 2 months or younger

  • A fever of 38.9 Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in children at any age

  • Blue lips

  • Laboured breathing, including nostrils widening with each breath; wheezing; fast breathing; the ribs showing with each breath; or shortness of breath

  • Severe headache

  • Not eating or drinking, with signs of dehydration (such as decreased urination)

  • Excessive crankiness or sleepiness

  • Persistent ear pain

  • If the child is getting worse


  • Wash hands with soap and water to prevent infection to others and family.

  • Children over 2 or other family members can wear a mask.

  • Keep shared areas well-ventilated.

  • Vaccination from the flu, COVID, and whooping cough are safe and effective for your child and during pregnancy. See your child's doctor regularly for routine recommended vaccinations to prevent getting these infections.

If you don't have a family doctor...

If you don't have a family doctor or pediatrician and need non-emergency medical advice, check if your employer, car, home, or extended health benefits cover virtual care services. For those located in Canada, Maple is a leading virtual care provider with physicians available 24/7.

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