How to Decipher the Baby Cough Code: Easy Clues to Follow

How to Decipher your Baby's Cough Code

You’re skipping down the Parenting Road, feeling like you’re finally starting to “get” how this whole thing works.

And then–out of nowhere —red lights start flashing.  Alarms begin blaring.  It’s Panic City, and you’re standing there vulnerably naked.  Shocked.

Your baby’s immune system is under attack.  

There’s a war going on in there, under those adorable little fat rolls and pudgy cheeks.  Her tiny little body starts sending out distress signals to the Mother ship.  

It kinda sounds like Morse Code.

cah. cah. cah.
coughhhh. coughhhhh.  coughhhh.
cah. cah. cah.

“But what does it MEAN??”  you ask.

Well, break out your little cipher machine and figure it out.  

WHAT’S THIS?  Your hospital forgot to include one in your “Bringing Home Baby” welcome packet?  tsk tsk!!

Being the generous friend that I am, I’m more than happy to lend you mine.  (It’s the latest version, iSpy.)

Inside this article iSpy, you’ll find everything you need to crack the code of your baby’s cough.  It’ll answer your most stressful question:  what do I do now?

The 3 Most Common
Baby Cough Codes

95% of all the sad little baby coughs you’ll hear are going to be coded towards one of these Secret Spy Cough Messages.  Those are…

  • The Allergy Cough
  • The Teething Cough
  • The Cold Cough

Here is your code-breaking sequence for each of them:

The Allergy Baby Cough Code

  • Baby’s nose may be running, but the snot is clear.
  • A dry cough (don’t hear any phelgm or mucus being moved) caused by “nose water” drip drip dripping down the back of the throat, irritating it.

Usually the allergy cough is caused by airborne allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander.  Talk to your pediatrician about treatment options.

The Teething Baby Cough Code

  • Baby’s nose is as dry as a bone.  No drippage whatsoever.
  • Baby’s cough sounds a tad on the wet side.

Instead of snot, this cough is due to drool.  If you think your baby may be teething.

Keep in mind, though, not all teething baby’s will develop coughs.  Check here for a symptom check, and then go here for 57 handy remedies!

The Cold Baby Cough Code

  • The nose is plugged, with yellowish crusties rimming the nostrils like a nasty martini glass.
  • The cough is wet, like he’s trying to toss up one magic loogie.

If the mucus is yellow, you’ve got an infection settling in.  If the mucus is green, then a have a colony living in there.  Either way, it’s best to give your doctor a call.  The common cold can quickly transform into the croup, pneumonia, or other illnesses.

Those of you readers who require a visual aid can see an example here.  This is how my Elena greeted me one morning.  (WARNING: I do not recommend viewing right after lunch.)

For helpful suggestions on how to overcome your baby’s uncomfortable stuffy nose, read 10 Ways to Unplug Baby Congestion.

The 6 Top Security
Baby Cough Codes

Those first three codes are on the tame side.  Think of them like the codes you used to send your best friend in 6th grade to talk about that cute new boy in the 3rd row.

They’re candy fluff.

These next six codes, though…these are CIA.  MI6.  These are the Level Red scary kinds of codes.   

Make sure you read through these cheats, so you can spot them and talk to Q (your doctor) when you think something is brewing.

The RSV Baby Cough Code

  • The cough is heavy and wet, with yellow, green, or even gray-colored mucus in the mouth and nose.
  • Seems to have difficulty breathing.
  • Refuses to breastfeed or bottle feed (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Usually includes a fever

RSV is very common and highly contagious in babies.  For more signs and symptoms of RSV, head here.  If you feel your baby may have RSV, contact your doctor.

The Croup Baby Cough Code

Lauren was the Croup Queen when she was smaller.  I swear, she seemed to come down with this every six weeks. It starts with a standard cold, but the virus causes the trachea to swell.

  • Cough has this barking sound.  (Kind of freaky.)
  • If you put your ear to baby’s chest, you can hear a rasping sound (wheezing).

It’s not something to take lightly (like a cold) but it’s not something that warrants a 911-call (like the whooping cough).

Call your doctor right away if you suspect croup, since usually the best treatment involves giving your baby some steroids to cut down on the trachea swelling.  (No, these aren’t the same as baseball player steroids.)

Most doctors will recommend creating a sauna in the bathroom by running a hot bath and sitting on the floor with your baby, letting her breathe in the warm moist air.

The Whooping Cough Code

The Whooping Cough is mis-named, I think.  It’s nothing to whoop about.  In fact, it was such a serious disease in the 1960s that it prompted a whole new vaccine: the DTP vaccine.

Pertussis (aka Whooping Cough) was originally thought to be wiped out, but has unfortunately started a comeback in recent years.

  • In most cases, there are no signs of a cold or a fever.
  • There is, however, this loud, rapid, cough with long gasping-sounds in between (that can sound like whoops).  Listen to what this sounds like.

Other symptoms include the tongue sticking out, bulging eyes, and face discoloration because baby is struggling to breathe.

The best treatment for Pertussis is vaccination.  Babies require three doses of the vaccine to be fully protected.  Caregivers are encouraged to get the Tdap booster (tetnus, diptheria, and pertussis) to avoid passing this along until baby has received her last dosage (usually between 4-6 years).

If you feel your baby has the Whooping Cough, call 911 immediately.  She will need oxygen during the coughing spells.

The Asthma Baby Cough Code

Asthma is not usually found in babies younger than two.  That said, with the 6 million readers that will browse this website in the next year, it’s still worth mentioning.

  • Does baby have bouts of eczema?
  • Is there a family history of asthma?
  • Very similar to RSV – hard to tell apart, especially in the first year.
  • Sometimes you can see a sucking in and out of the chest area (called retraction)

Count your baby’s breathing rate.  If she’s taking 50 or more breaths in a minute you need to call 911 and get her to a hospital.

For more information on asthma in babies, click here.

Helpful Video On Different Cough Sounds

I found this video during my research and thought it was extremely helpful. Several doctors walk you through the sounds of different coughs, and what illnesses cause each.

Free Emergency Hack Sheet for the Fridge

Free Printable for the Fridge! When to Call the Doctor -

Click here to download this printable for free.

The scariest thing about listening to your baby cough is wondering if that’s really a sign of something else.

What if you’re missing something serious?

Well, happy day!  I have a gift for you.  It’s a free printable for your fridge!

It’s called When Do You Need to Call the Doctor (I know! So creative!) and it gives you the four main things you’re looking for while hunting for your cell phone.

Download it here.

Besides being a quick handy reference, you can point it out to the babysitter on the way out the door.

How Do You Treat Coughing in Your Baby?

Since most of the time your baby is coughing because of post-natal drip, it stands to say that the most effective treatments for coughing will involve getting rid of the snot that’s oozing down the back of her throat.

To that end, here are my favorite “Cold Buster” tools I recommend you keep in the bathroom, on call and ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice!

  • Nosefrida SnotSucker ~ Most amazing nose-sucking baby product ever made. Ever.  Amazon.
  • Sniffy Sprinkles ~ A homeopathic remedy that clears up congestion in the nose and lungs.  Native Remedies
  • Vapor-Eze Vaporizer ~ Wonderful way to fill the nursery with helpful aromatherapy without any risk of mold.  Amazon
  • Eucalyptus Oil ~ A centuries-old natural remedy.  Put 5-10 drops into a steaming bath and let your baby breathe in the steam. A miracle worker. Starwest Botanicals
  • Boogie Wipes ~ These wipes are amazing. Seriously. They have extra saline inside that lets you get all those crusties off in one swipe (and with no fighting). Amazon

What Are Your Favorite Baby Cough Remedies?

Have you ever dealt with coughing before?

How did you treat it?

Meet Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor

Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at Incredible Infant and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007.  She's certified in baby sleep coaching (yes, that's a real thing), has served as an Expert Parenting Panelist for numerous events, and has been a featured writer on blogs like,, My Kid's Adventures, Cafe Mom, and others.  If it's 2am and you're desperate to read SOMETHING, click here for all her darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn't be allowed to blog.  


How to Decipher your Baby's Cough Code

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