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8 Ways to Help Your Congested Baby Breathe

Rebecca Desfosse
April 30, 2015

Nothing can make a baby crankier than a stuffy nose. Here's how to make it better -- fast.

Has your little one come down with a stuffy nose? She's not alone. In fact, according to Dr. Andrew Hotaling, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Loyola University Medical Center, children typically get six to eight colds a year -- many causing major congestion. Having a baby who is sick and can't breathe well can be pretty scary for parents.

Here are eight ways to help your congested baby breathe -- so you can, too:
 

  1. Get to the Root of the Problem
    Better understanding of the reason behind your child's sniffles can be the key to treatment. Nasal congestion can be caused by an upper respiratory infection (cold), allergies or a sinus infection, explains Dr. Meera Gupta of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Symptoms of a cold include runny nose, occasional sneezing, coughing and possibly a fever. Your baby may seem more fussy than usual and have trouble nursing, taking a bottle or falling (and staying!) asleep. Colds typically clear up on their own in five to 10 days. Allergies, on the other hand, cause lots of sneezing, itching of the nose and itchy, watery eyes. You'll need to visit your pediatrician or a pediatric allergist to get to the bottom of any suspected allergy. Cold symptoms that last more than 10 days are indicative of a sinus infection, which requires medical treatment.
     
  2. Use Saline Drops
    Saline drops should be your first line of defense against congestion. According to Dr. Gupta, "The best way to relieve congestion in babies and infants is to use a combination of saline drops that are available over the counter and bulb suction." Lay your little one down on his back and slightly tilt back his chin. Gently spray two to three drops of saline spray into each nostril.
     
  3. Suction With a Bulb Syringe
    Next, use a bulb syringe, also known as a nasal aspirator. Squeeze the bulb to get all the air out and then gently insert just the tip into baby's nostril. Slowly release the bulb to suction out the mucus. Wipe the syringe and repeat in the other nostril.
     
  4. Take a Steamy Bath
    Steam can also help loosen the mucus that's stuffing up your little one's nose. Run a hot shower for a few minutes to create some steam. Then sit in the steamy room with your baby for a few minutes, or run her a bath as usual. Just make sure that the hot water from the shower doesn't touch your little one -- it can burn her.
     
  5. Run a Cool Mist Humidifier
    Dry air can make congestion worse. Running a cool mist humidifier creates moisture in the air that can help unclog congestion. "Just be sure to follow the instructions to keep it clean or it will blow out mold and mildew, which can make congestion worse," says Dr. Hotaling.
     
  6. Keep Your Baby Hydrated
    Staying hydrated keeps mucus thin. If your little one has trouble nursing or doesn't want to take a bottle, use a combination of saline drops and a nasal aspirator before each feeding to help clear congestion, and encourage him to drink as much as possible.
     
  7. Keep Your Baby Upright
    Keeping your baby upright can help mucus drain. Hold or wear your baby, or let her nap in her car seat or a swing (but keep an eye on her) so she gets some rest and relief.
     
  8. Avoid Irritants
    Although you probably do this already, keep your baby away from cigarette and wood smoke, as it can irritate your baby's congestion and make it worse.
     

To help your congested baby sleep, employ a combination of these methods before bedtime. You also might want to slightly elevate one side of her crib mattress (fold a small towel and place it under the mattress), since sleeping with her head elevated will make breathing easier. However, Dr. Hotaling notes that it's easy for baby to get turned around in her crib, so you'll have to keep an eye on her.

Contact your pediatrician if your child develops a fever of 100.4 degrees F or more in connection with the congestion. "This may be a suggestion of something more serious," says Dr. Hotaling. Also contact your pediatrician if your child develops a barking cough, if he has trouble eating or drinking or if the symptoms of congestion last for more than 10 days.

To learn more, read about the 5 Common Causes of Infant Congestion.

Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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