Most chest infections are caused by a virus, which is spread from one person to another by coughing or sneezing. Your baby may have had a cold for a while that develops into a cough. Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert, shares her advice for treating a chest infection in babies.

Chest infections attack the airways in the lungs so they become inflamed and filled with mucus. An infection can clog up a baby’s air passages more easily than older children or adults because they are much smaller. It can then be more difficult for her to breathe and can make her wheezy or feverish with a cough.

Bronchiolitis is one of the most common chest infections in babies and is caused by a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is most likely to strike during the winter months between October and March. It affects about 1/3 babies in their first year. Premature babies, whose immune systems are less able to fight off infections, are particularly susceptible to RSV especially if they are born in the winter during the first few months after birth.

The first symptoms are usually mild and caused by the virus:

• Runny or stuffy nose
• Dry cough
• Mild fever of between 37.5-38°C (99.5–100.4°F) degrees
• Loss of appetite.

After two to three days, the symptoms may peak:

• Cough may be more persistent
• Breathing may become faster and sound shallow and laboured
• Heartbeat may be much faster
• Trouble feeding or refuse feeds.


Most cases of bronchiolitis get better on their own within a week or two. Doctors don’t tend to prescribe antibiotics, as they are only effective in treating bacterial infections rather than viral ones.

The advised treatments to relieve the above symptoms are:

• Infant Paracetamol or Ibuprofen (min age 12 weeks). This will help reduce any high temperature and relieve a sore throat encouraging her to feed more easily.
• Short frequent feeds to prevent her becoming dehydrated if she is taking less milk at her usual feed times. Top-ups in between may be necessary.
• Saline nasal drops to relieve a stuffy nose – use before feeds to help unblock her nostrils. Sit her as upright as possible during feeds.
• Breathing in steam can help loosen mucus blocking your baby’s airways and relieve her cough. Sit in the bathroom with your baby for a few minutes while the shower or hot taps are running. The steam that is created and circulated around the room will help her breathe more easily. Remember to change her clothes after doing this though, as they may be damp from the steam.

If you are worried at any point that your baby doesn’t seem to be improving then see your doctor as soon as possible. Some babies need to be prescribed an inhaler if their breathing continues to be laboured and wheezy to help them get over the bronchiolitis. This doesn’t necessarily mean the inhaler will be a long-term thing and that your baby has asthma.

Reducing infection

Any illness caused by a virus like RSV is very contagious. Viruses are passed on by touching, so they spread very quickly in places like nurseries, offices and even homes.

They can live on hands and surfaces for up to six hours, so practicing good hygiene can help prevent your baby catching them.

Wash your hands with warm water and soap if you have been outside of the home before holding your baby, and encourage visitors to do the same.

(You should always consult with your doctor and/or your healthcare professional with regards to medical treatments and medical advice that you read on or anywhere else online.)


About the author: Lisa Clegg has an NNEB Diploma in Childcare and Education and has held various jobs caring for babies and young children, including being a night maternity nurse. She is the author of the popular book ‘The blissful baby expert’ and a mother of three.