If your baby has a runny nose, that’s nothing for you to panic about. It’s actually one of the body’s mechanisms to get rid of germs. But, that doesn’t mean you should leave your congested baby without any help.
Not only is a congested baby likely to get a headache, they’ll also find it difficult to breathe and eat normally.
Having a hard time breathing from their nose, they opt to breathe from their mouth instead, which ends up making it difficult for them to feed.
So, if you’re here to learn about how you can help your cranky baby feel good about themselves again by helping them clear their stuffy nose, this article covers everything you need to know.
What Causes Baby Congestion?
Nasal congestion in babies, also referred to as a stuffy nose, is caused by swelling of the tissues inside the nose and excessive production of mucus.
Before you try to help with your baby’s stuffy nose, it’s important to know the potential causes first.
Small Nasal Passages
Have you ever looked at an infant’s nose? And by looked I mean examined closely.
If you have, you’ll see how an infant’s nose is so tiny, and their nasal passages are so small – unlike those of fully developed adults.
Because an infant’s nose is so tiny and their nasal passages are so small, even the least bit of mucus or swelling can lead to congestion trouble.
Sometimes, even a tiny bit of milk a baby spits up can get into their nostrils and cause congestion problems.
Inability To Blow Noses
When you and I feel a buildup of mucus in our nasal passages, we clear that mucus out by blowing our noses.
Young babies don’t know how to do that yet, so any excess mucus just stays there and causes congestion.
If there’s any irritants in the air that your baby breathes in – such as dust, perfume, smoke (not just tobacco smoke, but other types such as cooking smoke as well) or even just dry air – this could cause stuffy nose problems and could make any existing congestion problem worse.
Are you sure your little one isn’t down with a cold? Viral illnesses such as colds should be ruled out first, as these illnesses are one of the main reasons babies experience stuffed noses.
A baby could get between six to eight colds in a single year, and congestion is almost certain to be a problem each and every time they’re down with a cold.
There’s not much you can do to help your baby if they’re down with a virus, besides giving them the utmost care possible, feed them enough, keep them well hydrated and making sure they get enough sleep.
If it’s not just a mild virus, take them to the doctor.
There’s a high chance that your baby’s congestion problems are caused by allergies, especially if they’re older than 2 years of age.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “In my clinical practice, I have not seen nasal congestion as an allergy symptom under the age of 2 years.
I’ve had a few cases of tearing, swollen eyes in as young as 4 months old during the spring tree pollen season, but there was no associated nasal congestion.
With that being said, 2 years old is when environmental allergy symptoms start to present. At that time, sensitization has occurred long enough to produce visible symptoms.”
What Are Infant Congestion Symptoms?
The following is a list of some of the most common symptoms that babies with nasal congestion show.
- Thick mucus
- Runny nose
- Noisy breathing
- Snoring while asleep
- Inability to feed, since they can’t breathe through their nose while sucking on the breast/bottle nipple through their mouth.
How Can I Help My Congested Newborn? Home Remedies That Work
In most cases, you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office to relieve your baby from congestion. Nasal congestion is a condition that usually goes away on its own within one week.
And, as long as they’re breathing fine, eating normally and don’t seem to be bothered by it, there’s not much you should worry about.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just sit there and watch your child in discomfort (if that’s the case). All that’s usually needed are a few home treatments, and your little one will be back to normal in no time.
Saline drops, also known as saltwater drops, can work wonders.
First things first, you don’t need a prescription for this – you can buy it over the counter in stores. But, it’s a good idea for you to ask your doctor first about which brand of Saline they recommend you get and use.
All you need to do is put a few drops in your baby’s left nostril, a few drops in their right nostril, and then grab a bulb syringe (also known as a nasal aspirator) to remove as much mucus as possible.
When you finish using the syringe in one nostril, wipe it clean before attempting to use it in the other nostril in order to remove mucus there.
If you’ve got a fussy baby that gives you a hard time when trying to use a bulb syringe to remove mucus from their nostrils, then don’t stress about it too much. Using a bulb syringe is not an essential part of the process.
When the saltwater drops enter your baby’s nostrils, they thin the mucus and it ends up running out of their nose on its own. A bit messy, I know … But the end result is what matters.
Here’s a helpful video that shows how you could apply saline drops in your baby’s nostrils, as well as a few other useful tips you should keep in mind.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Use of Vick’s or camphor/mentholated rubs is not recommended or safe. Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers are unaware of this.
I frequently discuss the dangers of these products in my practice. Here are NIH and Mayo Clinic articles about the risks:
If saline drops are proving difficult for you to place in your baby’s nose, try using a spray instead, as that’s easier to work with. All you need to do is have your little one lay on their back, tilt their chin back just a little bit, and gently apply two or three drops of saline spray into each of the two nostrils.
You don’t have to buy nasal saline from a store, you can make it at home if you prefer to.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “If the infant’s nose is becoming irritated from frequent suctioning or a small amount of blood is produced, I would avoid suctioning the nose more than 4 times a day.”
Similar to Sanile drops, countless mothers have found that applying a few drops of breastmilk in their baby’s nostrils to soften the mucus works just as well.
You can do this pretty easily during any feeding session. If you ever find it’s affecting your baby’s feeding sessions in any way, they’re not comfortable with it or you suspect harm might have come from it, stop using this method immediately.
If you’re looking for a more “natural” method than having to use saline drops, it doesn’t get any more natural than breast milk, ladies and gentlemen!
Clean The Area
It’s not just about ridding your baby’s nose of excess mucus inside the nostrils, you should also clean the area around your baby’s nose as well.
The excess mucus that runs down their nose tends to harden, become crusty and sticky if left uncleaned.
One of the most effective ways to help relieve a baby from congestion – if not the most effective way – is having a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer run in their room when they sleep.
This fights dry air by adding some much needed moisture, which in turn moistens and loosens all the excess mucus building up inside of baby’s nose.
There’s benefits and drawbacks to using either humidifiers or vaporizers, so learn about the two options and see what you’re more comfortable using.
Be sure to regularly clean any humidifier you use at home. Neglecting that part can lead to mold and mildew growth, which – in turn – makes your baby’s congestion situation worse off than it already is (not to mention other health problems that come along as well).
If you don’t want to add a humidifier to your baby’s room for whatever reason or just can’t afford to buy one at the time, having them sit with you in a steamy bathroom for a while also helps.
Run a hot shower for a minute or two and sit in the steamy bathroom with them for another good 10 to 15 minutes, even up to 20 minutes, until their noses get unclogged.
When doing this, be extra careful not to let any hot water touch your little one. This can lead to nasty burns, excruciating pain and a whole lot of crying.
You can do this multiple times a day.
You might even try giving your baby a warm bath. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to play around with them a bit and take their mind off their discomfort, and the warm water will help clear their nasal congestion.
Try to keep your little one upright throughout the day whenever possible, as this could help with mucus drain and keep stuffiness at bay.
Try wearing your baby in a sling – it’s easy, it keeps them upright, and helps drain their nasal passages with very little to no effort from you.
Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t leave them upright to sleep at night.
Always try your best to keep your baby well hydrated throughout the day, regardless of whether they’re eating solids now and can drink water for hydration purposes, or they still rely on breastmilk/formula milk.
It’s essential that you clear their nasal passages from mucus buildup using a nasal aspirator and saline drops before every feeding session, so they manage to drink as much as possible.
It’s easy for you to tell whether your little one is properly hydrated or not, based on how many diapers they’re wetting in a day’s time. If they haven’t wet at least one diaper in a period of 6 hours, they’re not well hydrated.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I don’t encourage parents to give their infants and children juice.
I ﬁnd that many parents are already oﬀering juice before I have the opportunity to discourage it (usually due to the urging of extended family members).
Encouraging hydration (whether a baby is old enough to be drinking water or is still relying on breastmilk/formula milk) is a much better idea.
Here is what the AAP states about juice:
When Should I Call The Doctor?
If none of the above home treatments seem to work for your baby and it’s obvious that they’re bothered by having a stuffy, runny nose – it’s time to talk to your doctor.
They might see the need to prescribe certain medication for treatment, in case an infection or medical condition is present.
In some cases, the doctor might even determine that your baby has a condition that requires extra oxygen.
Oftentimes, parents take their little ones to the doctor thinking it’s just another congestion bump in the road that won’t go away, only to be told by the doctor that their baby has a more serious illness such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
You should also see a doctor if your baby still has difficulty breathing and/or eating even after you’ve suctioned mucus out of their nose.
In general, here’s a list that discusses symptoms that if present in your baby along with a stuffy nose, mean professional medical help is necessary – especially if they’re younger than 3 months of age.
- Fever (a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher). This is usually the case if they also have an upper respiratory infection.
- Swelling in any part of the head/face
- Stuffy nose that lasts longer than two weeks
- Inability to breathe properly. Many babies that experience congestion are way too young to know they could breathe through their mouths when they have clogged noses (especially those younger than 2 months of age) – and this is where it gets very dangerous.
- Nasal flaring
- Retraction around the ribs
- Fast breathing (more than 70 breaths per minute is very alarming and requires a visit to the emergency room right away)
- Inability to feed (or no interest in feeding)
- Visible signs of pain
- Grunting at the end of breaths
- Blue areas on their skin, specifically around their lips and nails
- Change in the color of nasal mucus, usually either becomes yellow or green
If you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms at the same time your baby’s congested, or if any of these symptoms last for more than 10 days at most, this could possibly be a signal for something more serious that needs to be ruled out by a pediatrician.
Should I Give My Baby Medicine?
Unless specifically instructed to do so by a doctor, do not give your baby any medication to help with their congestion problems. You need to be sure it’s baby-safe and effective in helping solve their problem first.
This is especially true for cold medications, since these are usually neither baby safe nor effective in helping with congestion problems.
Cough medicine has been proven to help adults with their dry nasal passages, but not only are they dangerous for babies under the age of 4, they offer no benefits at all. All they do is make your baby drowsy.
According to the FDA, over the counter cough and cold medication should never be given to babies younger than 4 years of age.
As for vapor rubs, these should also never be given to babies younger than two years of age.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “A note should be made about Zarbee’s and other homeopathic cold remedies on the market.
Zarbee’s, in particular, markets their products as safe for infants. Many of my parents try it prior to their infant or toddler seeing me for an oﬃce visit.
From what I have seen clinically, this remedy is not very eﬀective in relieving symptoms, and is not worth administering.
Don’t Take Matters Into Your Own Hands (Literally!)
Depending on how bad the situation gets and how fed up you are at the time, you might be thinking to yourself: “alright, I’ve had enough, I’m going to sort this out myself” – and stick your finger in your baby’s nose to try to unclog it yourself.
Not only is this very unhygienic, but there’s also a huge risk of causing nose bleeding and giving your little one an infection.
Wrapping It Up
If you’re a new parent and haven’t dealt with baby problems like congestion before, don’t put too much thought into it, it’s a fairly common condition among babies – especially newborns.
Usually, it’s because they’re down with a cold, but environmental factors and genetics can also contribute to the problem.
In most cases, you don’t need to give your baby any medication to help with relief. There’s a whole host of natural treatments you could try at home before thinking about giving them any medication.
If you decide to give your baby any medication to help relieve them from congestion, you should at least discuss it with your pediatrician first.
Last but not least, keep in mind that congestion is a normal condition that usually goes away on its own in a matter of days.
However, if you notice any unusual symptoms such as dehydration, a decrease in feeding or difficulty breathing, don’t wait it out – take your baby to the doctor straight away. There might be something more serious going on.