Unstuffing your child’s nose

There are plenty of things babies can’t do when they’re born – talk, hold their heads up, drive forklifts – but one of the limitations that can be surprising to new parents is that babies don’t start out able to breathe through their mouths. Now, there’s an upside, because your newborn won’t be able to passive-aggressively vent their frustration in a sigh (they'll probably just wail at you instead) but it starts to become a problem when they get one of the up to seven colds the Mayo Clinic says most babies get in their first year of life. This can be the learning curve they need to learn the all-important life skill that is mouth-breathing, but it can also make feeding a little tricky, so sometimes you might need to help them out clear out their teeny tiny little nasal passages.

Finding the cause

There are two main reasons a baby might have a hard time breathing through their nose. First, if the air is too dry, the sensitive skin in their nasal passages might swell, making it harder to breathe. This can – but doesn’t always – cause a bloody nose. This kind of stuffy nose is pretty easy to treat, either by running a hot shower with the door and windows closed and holding Baby in the steamy bathroom, or by running a humidifier to help keep the air in your home from being quite so dry.

The other kind of stuffed up nose, that comes with a cold, is sometimes a sign that it’s time to reach out to Baby’s doctor. Colds in babies under 3 months old can turn into croup or pneumonia. If your child is older than 3 months old, but has a runny nose and green nasal discharge that lasts longer than a day or two, trouble breathing or a cough, has a fever or seems to be having ear pain, it’s still probably a good idea to check in with a doctor. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking medical attention right away if your child’s stuffed-up nose comes with any of these symptoms:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Trouble breathing or bluish coloring around the mouth and lips
  • Coughing hard enough to cause vomiting or change the color of the face
  • Refusing to nurse or accept fluids

If none of these symptoms appear, it’s probably just a simple cold, and they just need a little help clearing those sinuses out. There are a few different strategies you can use to help unstuff their nose.

  • Saline solution: You can either buy saline solution or make it by mixing no more than a quarter of a teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water. Saline solution can be used to flush out their sinuses before using a bulb syringe can help to start to break down the mucus before sucking it out. First, squirt the bulb into the nostrils when the baby is upright, and then lie them down with their head slightly lower than their body for a moment to let the saline start to work on the mucus before using the nasal aspirator (or “snot sucker,” as it’s sometimes called) to pull it out.
  • Nasal aspirator: To use the nasal aspirator, bulb syringe, or “snot sucker,” squeeze the air out of the bulb and insert the tip slightly into your child’s nose – around a quarter of an inch in, just enough to seal the tip in the mucus, and then slowly release the bulb so it sucks the mucus in. Be sure to rinse the bulb with soapy water, and then again in clean water, between each use.

As a preventive measure, it’s important to make sure Baby stays well-hydrated, to prevent dryness. Baby probably doesn’t need any hydration outside of breast milk or formula, but offering frequent feedings, even if they’re short ones, can help to make sure they stay well hydrated.

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