New parents look forward to all sorts of things baby will learn: how to walk, talk and read, just to name a few. But come cold and flu season, there’s another important skill that’s woefully underrated: how to blow your nose. That simple skill would let baby breathe easy and manage colds like they’re no big deal. But for now, you’ve got to find safe and effective methods to help a congested baby along. Here’s all the info you need to do just that.
What Causes Baby Congestion?
Several issues can lead to a congested baby. “Some newborns get congested simply because their nasal passages are so tiny that a little bit of mucus, irritation from things in the air, or even a little bit of breast milk they spit up and goes into the nose can cause it,” says Tanya Altmann, MD, an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson and founder of Calabasas Pediatrics in California. While allergies aren’t typically a culprit behind baby congestion, cold or flu is. In fact, says Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, “the majority of congestion in infants is caused by viruses.”
What to Do for a Congested Baby
Fortunately, many home remedies are quite effective at making your little one more comfortable. Here are a few easy treatments to try. Best part? You probably have many of these already at home.
• Breast milk. It doesn’t get more natural—or easier—than this. “A drop or two in the nose can help loosen congestion,” Altmann says. “Let baby sniff it up, then give him tummy time; when he lifts his head, it’ll drain out.” You can also drain by holding your congested baby upright.
• Nasal saline. As with breast milk, add a drop or two in each nostril. You can buy nasal saline or make it at home: “Mix a quarter teaspoon of table salt and 8 ounces of bottled water,” Altmann says. (Tap water could introduce an infection, especially for a young infant.)
• Cool mist humidifier. Fill up the humidifier with plain water—no Vicks or other substances—and run it in baby’s room while she’s sleeping. “Put this close to the crib; it really makes a difference,” Posner says.
• Steam room. “Steam up the bathroom and sit baby on your lap or breastfeed in there for 20 minutes,” Altmann says. “The humidity loosens any dry congestion in the nose to help it drain.”
• Nasal aspirator. Instead of loosening the mucus, aspirators physically remove it (so it helps to apply saline or breast milk drops into the nose first to make any dried-out mucus easier to remove). You probably already have a bulb suction, which is often part of the baby care package from the hospital. If you use one, make sure to replace the bulb every other month, since it’s impossible to clean the interior, says Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. A similar option that parents swear by: the NoseFrida (aka, snot sucker), which unclogs a congested baby’s nose via a tube connected to a mouthpiece; parents place one end of the tube at the nostril and the other end in their mouth to suction out the mucus. Don’t worry—the tube has a foam reservoir so the mucus can’t enter the parent's mouth, and the device can be cleaned out periodically.
• Warm juice. For babies 6 months and up, try feeding baby a little warm, unsweetened apple juice or water (test on your inner wrist to make sure it’s not too hot). Just as with OTC products, they’ll soften any mucus that ends up in the back of baby’s throat.
• Chamomile tea. This is another throat soother for older babies. But unlike with adults, don’t add honey if your child is under a year old; it can contain botulism spores that can only be destroyed by more mature stomachs.
While baby congestion medicine might seem like an obvious go-to, it’s actually a major no-no. The FDA recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines never be used in children younger than 4 years old. “Traditional cold and cough medicines can have unpleasant or dangerous side effects, and research shows they aren’t helpful,” Altmann says.
When to Call the Doctor About Baby Congestion
Is baby eating well? Is there no sign of fever or cough? If he seems like his ol’ happy self, except for the blocked-up nose, then just let your little one be and simply keep a close eye on him. “It’s usually safe to watch at home for a few days,” Fisher says. Call the doctor if the baby congestion persists, or if your child starts to heat up with fever, develop a cough or lose his appetite. Get immediate help if you see the following conditions:
- Breathing using stomach muscles
- Flared nostrils
- Quick breaths
- High-pitched wheezing
- Pale or blue skin
Published December 2017
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