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A Bad Cough Is Keeping My Infant Awake at Night

author image Melissa McNamara
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
A Bad Cough Is Keeping My Infant Awake at Night
A bad cough can keep your baby from sleeping. Photo Credit 06photo/iStock/Getty Images

Waking up to your baby coughing can be an alarming experience for parents, particularly if the cause of the cough is unknown. If the coughing is so sever that your baby is losing sleep, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. If your baby is having difficulty breathing or is turning blue during nocturnal coughing spells, call 911 or seek emergency medical attention.


There are several conditions that can cause your infant to cough badly at night, such as croup, whooping cough, asthma and the common cold. Croup sounds like a bark, starts suddenly and usually occurs in the middle of night. Whooping cough is also worse at night and causes persistent coughing spells that can make it difficult for your infant to catch his breath. At the end of the coughing spell, your infant will make a whooping sound. Whooping cough will usually have a low-grade fever and cold-like symptoms. The cough may be the only symptom, but an asthma attack can also cause wheezing, sweating and a rapid heartbeat.

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Coughs are typically more severe at night because your infant is lying down and the mucus from her sinuses is dripping into her throat, which triggers the coughing reflex. Croup is usually caused by a viral infection that results in swelling of the larynx and trachea; it is more common in children under 3 years old because infants have narrow airways. Whooping cough is caused by Bordetella pertussis, a bacterium that affects the airways, the KidsHealth website explains. Whooping cough is potentially life-threatening, particularly for infants. Asthma, meanwhile, causes the airways to tighten around certain triggers, such as dust mites, animal dander, secondhand smoke and cockroach dust.


As of 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approve cough medicines for use in infants. If a viral infection is causing your child’s nocturnal cough, antibiotics will be ineffective at treating your infant’s symptoms; antibiotics will be needed for whooping cough. Viruses need to run their course, but certain home measures may help relieve your infant’s nocturnal cough. Have your infant drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you breastfeed, breastfeed your infant as often as he wants the breast. Keep a cool-mist humidifier in your baby’s room while he sleeps. Prop the head of your baby’s crib up a few inches to reduce the amount of mucus that drains into his throat. Run the shower on the hottest setting and close the bathroom door. Sit in the steam with your infant for 10 to 15 minutes. If your child has asthma, you can use a nebulizer, a machine that administers a fine spray of medication and is applied to the mouth and nose of your infant. Keep your child’s bedroom free of potential asthma triggers.


There is a whooping cough vaccination that significantly reduces your child’s risk of developing the condition. You can reduce your infant’s risk of viral and bacterial infections that result in a nocturnal cough by making sure people wash their hands before handling her. Minimize the number of people around your baby since a person can be contagious before any symptoms of illness are present. If your child has asthma, prevent attacks by reducing irritants around your child and ensure she takes her medication as directed.

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