Clueing up on different types of cough is always a good idea. Whether your baby’s coughing at night is causing you concern, or your toddler has a chesty cough, the more you know, the easier it is to know what to do to help them feel better.

First, let’s learn about what types of baby coughs there are. This may help you get an idea of potential reasons for why your baby may be coughing at night.

Coughs in babies

Not all baby coughs are the same. Here are different types of baby coughs and their possible causes.

Dry coughs in babies

The first type of cough babies can get is a dry cough, which doesn’t bring up phlegm. A dry cough, also known as a hacking cough, may have different possible causes, such as the common cold and the flu, allergies, pollution, cold air, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, bronchitis.

Take your baby to the doctor if they have a dry cough that won’t go away and if they’re having trouble breathing.

Chesty coughs in babies and children

A chesty cough is a symptom of a chest infection, and your baby can develop a chesty cough after getting a cold. Watch out for any green or yellow mucus coming out, as this may be a sign of infection. Other symptoms of this may include your baby wheezing, having a fever or experiencing shortness of breath.

As with babies, chesty coughs in kids can be caused by chest infections. If your child has a fever and if they feel shivery and hot, take them to the doctor.

Use saline drops to help your baby or toddler if they have a blocked nose and post nasal drip that makes them cough. You can give it to them at night just before bed. 

Dry coughs in children

Dry coughs in children can be caused by lots of things - the common cold, second-hand cigarette smoke and other irritants like dust or pollen, for example.

With a dry cough, you’ll notice that it doesn’t sound like there’s mucus the body is trying to get out.

You can help ease a dry cough by putting a humidifier in the room or using steam from a warm bath or shower. It’s important to keep them well hydrated.

Drinking warm liquids can be especially soothing. If your child is older than 1 year, you can give them some warm water with lemon and honey. It has a similar effect to cough medicine.

Speak to your GP if your child is struggling to breathe or drink liquids and if the cough won't go away after three weeks.

 

Outliers

There are some outliers you should be aware of – a few causes of coughs in babies and children that aren’t as common. They are:

Baby barking cough

Does your child sound like a barking seal when they’re coughing at night? That's a barking cough.

Croup can cause a dry, barking cough in babies and young children. Other symptoms to watch out for include a harsh, high-pitched noise when they breathe in or a fever.

You may need to go to the doctor if your child is showing these symptoms.

Asthma in babies

While it’s possible for babies to develop asthma, it’s rare. Asthma is usually only diagnosed when children are a bit older.

It’s often associated with wheezing, and can be triggered by cold air and allergies. In older children, it can be triggered by allergies, pollution, exercise, and infections like cold or flu.

Helping to ease coughing at night

Do you find that during the day, your child coughs only a few times, but when night time comes, their coughing becomes worse?

Unless your child is struggling to sleep, coughing at night isn't something you should worry about. But how can you help reduce night time coughing?

  • Keep your child well hydrated if they can’t stop coughing at night.
  • Putting vapour rub on your child's chest or a cloth/towel can help open up their nasal passages and chest cavities. But speak to your pharmacist before putting it on their skin.
  • If your child has a barking cough from croup at night, you can take them outside, as the cold air can help to soften and relax their airways.
  • Steam can also work well and make it easier for your child to breathe. Just before bed at night, you can sit with them in a hot shower and let them breathe in the moist air. A warm bath can also work well.
  • If your child is really struggling to breathe, if the coughing persists for more than three weeks and if it keeps getting worse, you should take them to the doctor.

Before giving your baby or older child any medication, speak to your doctor first. Some medications can only be given to children once they've reached a certain age, and some might be more effective than others, depending on what's causing your child's cough.

Only give antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Antibiotics won't help if your child's cough is caused by a viral infection. A cold, flu and bronchiolitis are all caused by viruses. Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections, not viruses.

If your child's coughing is accompanied by a fever, you can give them Nurofen for Children. It provides up to 8-hour fever relief and starts getting to work in 15 minutes, specially formulated for little ones over 3 months (over 5kg).