Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How to Know if Your Baby is Coughing for Attention

Perhaps I have more Mom Brain than I thought. I can’t recall if either of my girls faked a cough as babies. But I do have recent experience witnessing it first-hand!

My cousin’s 7-month-old baby was giggling and playing. Then…COUGH!

My cousin looked at me, alarmed. She worried it was something dreadful. A cold. The flu! COVID!

I grabbed the thermometer and did a couple of checks. Everything was normal. I listened to the baby’s breathing. Normal, no sniffling or stuffiness. I asked how she’d been eating and sleeping. Before my cousin could answer, her wee daughter grabbed the assortment of baby foods on her tray (sweet potato cubes and smashed peas) and began gobbling it up.

She looked at us again. COUGH

I began laughing, and my cousin gave me the evil eye. “How can you laugh?” she demanded.

“Because, she’s faking it. Watch!” I explained. I grumbled a bit of a cough out. The baby looked me dead in the eyes and coughed right back. Then she laughed.

My cousin now realized that little Sara was a prankster already. While a fake infant cough can sound scary, you need to learn the difference between that baby fake cough vs real cough. I’ve heard this artificial baby coughs when hungry too. A baby can fake cough for teething because the drool makes them gag.

And yes, you may see your toddler fake coughing sometimes too. It’s different if the baby keeps coughing and gagging, but we’ll get to the bottom of this and then some, so read on!

Do babies fake coughs?

The short answer is yes!

Babies are trying to communicate with us. So they can pretend to cough or even sneeze. It’s super-normal and is really just her way of trying to get your attention.

It begins around the age of 6 months and eventually peters off when your child starts talking more and more. If you fake-cough back, you may get a response. This is generally a sign your baby is faking the cough.

Stopping them takes time and encouragement from you as you teach them other ways to communicate and get your attention.

But wait, Leslie! What if my baby really is coughing?

Excellent question! There are many other things to look out for but first, let’s get to why your baby is fake coughing!

  • Attention-seeking

Sometimes a baby fake coughs when hungry. And they will fake cough to get your attention at any time. Babies learn very quickly that when they cough, you come running. You may even jump over the couch to get to them faster. Who doesn’t want to see a replay of that?

  • They think it’s fun

The simplest things entertain babies. So with this new coughing skill that sends you, your spouse, and any other caregiver running across the room to them, it’s incredibly amusing.

drooly baby about to sneeze
P.C.: Flickr!
  • They’re a bit drooly

At the age of 2 months, the salivary glands start to get more active. This leads to more drool. So too does teething. Your baby might be coughing simply because they can’t get rid of that saliva.

  • They find the sound fascinating

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere in several of my posts over the years that babies can hear you while they’re growing in the womb. They know your voice around the 25th week. Sounds are such a huge way to build development for babies, especially early on, as their eyesight hasn’t caught up. They rely on hearing the most, which is why they may fake coughs. The sound is interesting to them!

Is my baby fake coughing – how to know?

Ok, so we’ve learned that babies fake coughs. So, how do we know when our little one is faking it or really has a cough?

For starters, don’t panic. Even if it is a real cough, there is plenty you can do. Here’s how to figure out the real deal from the fake!

Get that thermometer out

Check your baby’s temperature. If it is normal, don’t worry anymore. Even if it is slightly elevated, if your baby is acting otherwise normal as they usually do, don’t worry. Sometimes babies will cough during teething because of the drool, and sometimes teething can elevate the temperature.

The nose knows

If your baby is coughing but there is no trouble with the nose in the way of runniness or stuffiness, it’s likely a fake. Most colds come with coughs and runny noses.

Breathing trouble

For babies that have difficulty breathing, that’s not a fake. You’ll be able to tell if breathing seems harder for your baby. Likely, they will not be acting like themselves either. In this case, you’ll want to head to the pediatrician.

Other dangerous signs

In general, babies that aren’t falling asleep well, don’t have proper bowel movements, refuse to eat, and cough along with it are probably ill. You’ll want to bring them for a checkup as soon as possible so they can feel better again.

It could be choking too

Choking is so scary, especially when a baby is doing it. You’ll know baby is kidding around with you here. If the coughing keeps coming, something might be stuck in their throat. Always keep little choking hazards away from your child. In the event of choking, you should know how to save a choking baby.

Keep an eye out for allergies

Allergies may also cause coughing for babies. Something dusty can certainly bring it on, so make sure to keep stuffies and pillows free of buildup.

Acid reflux may be to blame

Acid reflux does happen for babies too. But it will usually come with other symptoms. Babies often arch their back as they eat or right after if they have it. In addition to coughing, they gag and have trouble swallowing. They get cranky and don’t eat well too. If you notice these symptoms and the baby is coughing, get to the doctor. They can help get the baby the relief she needs!

Is there a way to stop a baby from fake coughing?

If you are sure it’s a fake cough, you can have a good laugh. It’s funny the first few times. Isn’t anything?

But if your baby keeps doing it, it gets old fast. So simply tell them in a gentle voice that there are no fake coughs and ask your baby what she wants. Be soothing, so you encourage them, as using a loud voice can be scary. You want to encourage your baby to communicate in other ways rather than coughing and giving you a scare.

If you know your baby is fully healthy, you can ignore the fake cough. Babies that are using this attempt at attention usually grow tired of it once everyone stops acknowledging it.

When should baby fake cough be seen by a doctor?

Naturally, if a fever is present with that cough and you have a lethargic baby, runny nose baby, stuffy nose baby, or other symptoms with it, it’s best to see the doctor. If nothing else is accompanying the cough and baby seems chipper, eats well, sleeps well (well by baby standards that is LOL!), and is acting like they usually act, you’ll want to discourage the coughing by teaching other ways to communicate and get attention for their needs.

Fortunately, babies are incredibly easy to distract, so you will find a way to get them to stop this fake coughing nonsense and engage in better ways to get what they need.

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