How to Help Clear a Baby’s Stuffy Nose

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If you've recently noticed that your baby has a stuffy nose, you may wonder what you should do. Rest assured that it's common for babies to have nasal congestion from time to time, especially when they are first born. So, most of the time your baby's stuffy nose is nothing to worry about and can easily be treated with home remedies.

Keep in mind that baby noses are small with very small nasal passages. Because of that, your baby might sneeze often. These sneezes don't necessarily mean they have a cold, but instead are their body's natural way of clearing the nose of irritants. Below is everything you need to know about baby congestion including when to call the doctor.

Child's stuffy nose causes
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Causes of Baby and Newborn Congestion

As long as your baby's congestion is not accompanied by other symptoms or interfering with their eating or breathing, there is probably not a lot to worry about. When babies are first born, it's normal for them to be congested. Babies typically get some amniotic fluid in their noses that can make them a little stuffy for the first few days.

Saliva and milk from feeding also can get in their nasal passages and may cause your baby to sneeze a lot to clear it. Sometimes irritants like dust, pet dander, hair spray, perfumes, and cigarette smoke can irritate their nasal passages causing congestion as well.

Other causes of nasal congestion include dry air, colds, viruses, and allergies. Keep an eye on your baby and their symptoms and contact your doctor with any concerns.

How to Help a Congested Baby

Some doctors advise against treating your newborn's stuffy nose, especially if your baby is feeding well and filling up diapers normally. The argument: Why irritate little nasal passages with salt water or blunt plastic objects unless it's absolutely necessary?

Others may recommend some simple solutions to clear nasal congestion like using a humidifier, saline drops, and a bulb syringe. If you decide to try these home remedies, here's what you need to know about helping clear your baby's congested nose.

What to Do

If your newborn is particularly congested and they appear uncomfortable, there are some things you can do to relieve this discomfort. Here are some simple ways to make them a little more comfortable.

  • Start with saline nasal drops. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops can be helpful at loosening a mucus-filled baby nose. These drops loosen up mucus and help your baby move it forward with a sneeze.
  • Use a bulb syringe. After using saline drops, you can then use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to suck out the sticky culprit and clear your baby's nose. Don't be overly aggressive with these devices, as it's easy to do more harm than good.
  • Invest in a humidifier. A humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer in your baby's room will add moisture to the air and help your baby breathe more easily. Just be sure to clean the humidifier regularly in order to prevent mold growth.

What Not to Do

When it comes to addressing nasal congestion, there are some things you should steer clear of regardless of how congested your baby's nose might seem. Here's what to avoid when addressing your baby's stuffy nose.

  • Refrain from using menthol rubs. Rubs, like Vicks, are not recommended for newborns or children under 2 years of age.
  • Avoid cough and cold medicines. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend cough and cold medicines for children under 4 years of age. Meanwhile, children 4 to 6 years of age should only be given cough and cold medications if advised to do so by their pediatrician.
  • Resist the urge to use a wedge to elevate the crib mattress. The AAP's safe sleep recommendations include placing your baby on their back to sleep on a firm, flat surface like a crib or a bassinet. The use of wedges or other devices is not recommended.

When to Call a Doctor

Be sure to see your doctor right away if your baby is younger than 3 months old and their stuffy nose is making it difficult for them to nurse. If the congestion is related to a cold, you also should call your doctor. Colds in babies this young can quickly become dangerous problems like croup, brochiolitis, and even pneumonia.

You also should call your doctor if your baby's congestion is accompanied by other symptoms like crankiness, a fever of 100.4 or higher, or lethargy.

For children older than 3 months, call your doctor for an appointment if their nasal congestion lasts longer than 10 to 14 days. You also should contact your doctor if your baby has a fever over 102, is lethargic or cranky, appears to have ear pain, or has a cough that won't go away.

And, regardless of your baby's age, get help right away either by going to the emergency room or calling 9-1-1 if your baby's congestion is making it difficult for them to breathe. Some signs that your baby is struggling include nostrils that get larger with each breath, skin around the ribs sucking in with each breath, fast breathing, or lips or nails that are turning blue.

Prevent Baby Congestion

While some congestion is inevitable, especially in newborns, there are things you can do to try to prevent additional congestion from occurring, especially from colds. The first step is knowing what congestion culprits to avoid. For instance, keep your baby away from common nasal irritants like:

  • Lint and dust
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes or scented body lotions
  • Hair sprays
  • Paint or gasoline fumes
  • Pet hair
  • Aerosol sprays

Colds and viruses also can cause congestion in babies. For babies under 3 months old, it's important to keep them away from anyone who is sick. This practice is especially important in the winter months when most people are sick with colds and viruses. Keep in mind that a virus that only causes a mild illness in an adult can result in a serious situation for an infant.

You also should make certain you are frequently washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. And, if you have older children in the house, be sure they are frequently washing their hands and that they cover their coughs. You also should stay up-to-date on your vaccines, including the flu vaccine.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does newborn congestion last?

Newborns often have congested noses soon after birth because of the excess amniotic fluid in their noses. As a result, you may notice them sneezing more frequently as they work to clear the congestion.

Fortunately, this congestion should clear on its own within a few days to a week. If you're concerned about your baby's congestion or it seems to linger, talk with your baby's doctor.

What kind of humidifier is best for baby congestion?

Moist air not only helps relieve your baby's nasal congestion but it also can make for a more comforting sleep environment. When selecting a humidifier for your baby, it's best to opt for a cool-mist humidifier over a warm-mist one.

Although they both accomplish the same thing, a cool-mist humidifier is safer because the steam from a warm-mist humidifier could get too warm or burn your baby if they get too close. Even an accidental spill from a humidifier can cause burns.

How can I help my congested baby sleep?

When a young baby is congested due to a cold, sleeping can be a challenge. But there are things you can do to improve their sleep. First, try using a cool-mist humidifier in their room. Not only is the moist air comforting, but it also can keep mucus flowing and keep it from clogging your baby's nose.

Before bed, try using saline drops to thin the mucus and a nasal aspirator to clear away any excess mucus. Then, if your baby wakes in the middle of the night to feed, you can try clearing their nasal passages again if they seem particularly stuffy.

A Word From Verywell

Often, your baby's stuffy nose bothers you more than it actually bothers your baby. Stuffy noses are very common, especially in newborns, and often your baby can cope quite well on their own. Of course, if the congestion is lingering you can use a cool-mist humidifier to make their sleeping environment more comfortable.

Saline drops along with a nasal aspirator are other options but should not be used aggressively or too often. The best course of action is often to let your baby's nose be. If you're concerned about your baby's stuffy nose, contact their doctor for advice. But as long as they don't have any other symptoms or a cold, a stuffy nose is usually nothing to worry about.

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