whooping cough in babies:
symptoms and treatments

The coughing sounds your baby can make when they have whooping cough can be a bit worrying. Knowing the symptoms of whooping cough, as well as the steps to take if your baby has it, means you can act fast to comfort your little one.

what is whooping cough?

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough (not to be confused with croup) is a bacterial infection that affects your little one's lungs and airways. It causes your baby to cough for a few minutes at a time, most likely during the night. There's a risk that babies and young children could become quite ill from it, so it's important to know the signs.

what are the signs and symptoms of whooping cough?

Whooping Cough symptoms might start out as similar to a cold. A few distinct things to look out for are:

  • bouts of coughing that last a few minutes and tend to be at night
  • bringing up mucus and vomiting while they cough
  • a distinctive "whooping" sound when they breath between coughs

Whooping cough can seem pretty scary your little one may have trouble breathing and their nails or lips might turn a bluish colour while they're coughing. However, rest assured that these symptoms usually look a lot worse than they are. Baby should be able to start breathing normally again very quickly after a bout.

complications from whooping cough

If you think your little one has whooping cough, take them to your doctor straight away (if in doubt, use the NHS 111 number). In babies and young children the infection can cause quite serious complications so, even though everything is most likely going to be absolutely fine, it's really important that they get treatment as soon as possible.

how is whooping cough treated?

Babies younger than one might be taken to hospital, but rest assured that this is usually just to be on the safe side and avoid any potential complications. They'll probably be given antibiotics, as well as oxygen to help with breathing.

For babies over one, it's likely you'll be given antibiotics to take home. If they have a fever, age-appropriate paracetamol or ibuprofen can help make them feel better. Don't be tempted to give them any cough suppressants, though this is because the coughing is actually vital to clearing their airways.

is whooping cough infectious?

Whooping cough is highly contagious. It's spread through droplets of saliva during those coughing bouts, so it's important that you stay away from nursery and school until the antibiotics get to work (which usually takes about 48 hours).

Covering your baby's mouth while they cough and chucking out your used tissues right away can also help prevent anyone else catching the infection.

are there any preventions?

Your baby will be given a vaccine against whooping cough as part of their routine immunisations. You can even protect them from it before birth by having the vaccine just after the 20th week of pregnancy. Speak to your midwife if you have any concerns at all about ensuring your little one is protected against the infection.