for some babies (and their parents), cold season seems like it’s every season, especially since trying to alleviate a baby congestion it often feels like a futile task. (Let’s face it, getting snot out of a baby’s nose is no easy task.) But while caregivers want to do everything they can to comfort their little munchkins when they’re congested (i.e. clear mucus from the baby’s throat and nose), they need to make sure they’re doing it safely, and when it’s appropriate.
“The most important question in deciding if, when, and how to remove mucus is whether or not the mucus bothers your baby,” Dr. Rebekah Diamond, MD., pediatrician and author of Father as a pediatrician, he tells Mamluk. “If your baby is engorged but comfortable and there’s nothing else to worry you or your pediatrician about, it’s okay to leave it that way.” Of course, parents and pediatricians alike know that it’s hard to hear your baby sobbing and coughing, but it’s important to understand the causes of infant congestion, when to contact a health care provider, and, if necessary, how to clear mucus of the baby’s throat and nose naturally (and with a minimum of tears).
Why is your baby congested?
“Unfortunately, babies get sick. This is a normal part of childhood, especially for babies in the first year of nursery,” pediatrician Dr Krupa Playforth, MD, FAAP, tells Romper. “Washing your hands often and well, and keeping children away from sick people, or keeping them home when they are sick, can go a long way to minimizing their exposure to illness, but it may not completely prevent it.” ”.
Playforth explains that almost anything can cause nasal passage irritation (and therefore increased mucus), including a viral or bacterial infection, environmental factors that can cause rhinitis (or nasal congestion), and reflux, which May cause an accumulation of mucous secretions. While she adds that it’s important to rule out or address any underlying health issues that may be contributing to congestion in the nose and throat, the condition itself is fairly common in babies.
Also, a little congestion can often seem like a lot. “Many young babies, in particular, can sound very congested from mucus buildup, not because the volume of mucus is excessive, but because they have tiny nasal passages that are easier to occlude,” adds Playforth. This, he explains, becomes less of a problem as the size of the ducts increases and the child is better able to clear them. Diamond also points out that the physiology of breathing in babies (newborns breathe almost exclusively through their noses) is different from that of older children and adults, making normal congestion (with which many babies are born) be much more obvious.
But while it’s common in babies, engorgement “should be checked out by a pediatrician or health care provider if it’s causing problems with feeding or is accompanied by fever or fussiness,” the pediatrician said. Dr. Sara Siddiqui, MD, FAAP, advises. Babies younger than 3 months should be checked for any congestion or cough (and before administering any of the home remedies or interventions below), and persistent symptoms in older babies should also be treated by a health professional. Basically, if a parent is concerned, having their child tested is always the right course of action.
How to remove mucus from the baby’s nose naturally
“The best thing you can do is focus on your child’s comfort level,” advises Playforth. “Some parents become obsessed with clearing mucus for the sake of clearing mucus, and excessive clearing can also cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages. So just do what’s necessary.”
Of course, clearing the nasal passages (after making sure there is no nosebleed or trauma and that the baby is breathing well) makes sense “if your child has thick discharge that interferes with the ability to breathe comfortably or feed (which is something we often see in young babies who are breast or bottle fed)… or interferes with the baby’s ability to sleep,” she says. [Note: There is a difference between noisy breathing due to congestion and respiratory distress. Signs of respiratory distress (breathing fast, using muscles to breathe which causes the ribs to be exposed, nose flaring, or the neck skin tugging in) or any big breathing issue (for example from bronchiolitis), requires immediate medical attention, says Diamond.
So aside from letting a non-threatening viral infection run its course, here’s what caregivers can do to remove mucus and make their little ones a bit more comfortable.
Use non-medicated saline drops
Getting store-bought non-medicated saline drops into tiny noses is an art form (kids often hate them) — but Siddiqui says that they’re often the best way to start clearing mucus congestion. In fact, sneezing away the gunk after use is actually good. “Using saline drops can decrease the thickness of the mucus, making it easier to clear on its own,” she explains, adding that they can be administered three to four times a day as needed and caregivers should make sure the packaging clearly states non-medicated. “If the nasal congestion is not too thick and not causing other symptoms, like difficulty feeding or sleeping, then it would be all right to let it resolve naturally.” Again, she does note that use of these and any at-home interventions for babies under 3 months should only be under the supervision of a pediatrician or health care provider.
Carefully suction with a syringe bulb
A small, clean suction bulb (or a nasal aspirator like the popular Nose Frida) — in conjunction with saline drops to first loosen or thin out the mucus — can literally help suck out some of the snot, especially before feeds or sleep time. Siddiqui, though, emphasizes that extracting mucus should be done gently. “Sometimes overuse of the bulb syringe may cause irritation in the nasal passage,” she explains. “If the nasal passage is getting irritated or becoming red then it is best to continue saline nose drops to the area without using a bulb syringe. Using a non-medicated ointment such as Vaseline or Aquaphor would help skin irritation secondary to mucus congestion around the nose area.”
Turn on a cool mist humidifier
They might be a pain to clean (and ridding them from bacteria is super important), but a cool mist humidifier, says Playforth, can help keep the air moist and therefore help ease stuffiness. (Keeping babies well-hydrated and the environment free from irritants also helps.) Playforth does, though, warn against the use of “essential oils or other aromatherapy as some of those products have been associated with bronchospasm [a tightening of the airways] and respiratory tract irritation, and are not effective.”
How to Help Clear Baby’s Throat Congestion Naturally
getting phlegm (often the thicker secretions of the lower respiratory tract) and mucus from a baby’s system is often a challenge, Playforth notes. But there are ways to make your baby feel a little more comfortable if the symptoms seem to be bothering him.
Address congestion in the nose
“Postnasal drip occurs as a result of excess mucus going back up rather than out of the nostrils,” explains Playforth. “For babies, this is a common way for mucus to go because they can’t blow their nose.” Siddiqui also notes that postnasal drip and subsequent coughing can be caused by “increased congestion of the adenoids which sit over the tonsils and can leak down the back of the throat causing irritation and pain.”
So what can be done? Playforth suggests using saline drops and, if necessary, suctioning the nose to help decrease the amount of postnasal drip that may occur. And while stuffy sleep often leads to sleep deprivation (for babies and parents alike), it reminds caregivers to “keep the head of the bed down.” [or] tilt the baby in an effort to try to help prevent postnasal drip,” as the guidelines state the importance of babies put to sleep on a flat surface and on their backs.
Keep the baby well hydrated
There just isn’t an easy way to remove mucus from your throat, but Playforth notes that “hydration will help remove the sticky mucus that hangs from postnasal drip…and the natural mechanism of coughing does go some way to do this.” I eat well.” Siddiqui also explains that even a small amount of clear liquids (with medical supervision for infants under four months of age) will help thin the mucus in the back of the throat.
Sit with your baby in a steamy bathroom
Think of it like a spa day for me and my baby! Well, not exactly, but this natural remedy for breaking down mucus is a favorite among pediatricians. “Steam inhalation can work to help break up some of the thicker secretions,” Playforth advises on how to relieve congestion in the nose and throat. “The best way to do this is to turn on the shower and wait until the bathroom mirrors fog up. Then sit in the bath with the baby for 10 to 15 minutes.” Playforth adds that, in terms of breaking down mucus, “a little rubbing or patting on the back can help, especially if you’re also holding your baby upright, but it’s important to make sure you don’t shake the baby too hard.”
Use a syringe bulb in the mouth, gently
While Diamond says that “only a gentle mouth sucking is fine with those little bulbs,” she notes that it can be irritating and often isn’t necessary unless recommended by your pediatrician. Playforth stresses that this should be done on the cheek and absolutely nowhere near the throat.
Are there safe decongestant medications for babies?
The short and long answer is no, Playforth says, since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t recommend these types of medications for infants or young children (under 4 or 6, depending on the specific drug). Says Diamond, “The reality is they just don’t work and they have a lot of side effects.”
Diamond also warns against companies that market their medicinal products as natural. “I just like to remind parents that anything that’s going to treat anything is a medicine,” she says. “If it says natural or over-the-counter, it probably means you just found a loophole to bypass FDA testing. So, again, I would check with your pediatrician.”
For babies older than 1 year (which is important because honey can be dangerous before that age), Diamond suggests one tablespoon of honey as the only cough medicine to go down for small children. “It’s a great way to help a young child with a cough,” she says, adding that it’s “a true scientifically proven cough suppressant.”
Of course, when it comes to babies and engorgement (and barring any concerns or dangerous warning signs), Playforth reminds caregivers that whatever you’re doing to clear mucus should be done to improve baby’s comfort level, not just to remove mucus. . Adds Diamond, “Sometimes kids just want to sleep and rest and they’re safe and they’re going to be noisy. [while breathing]and in a few days they will be better”.
Dr. Sara SiddiquiMD, FAAP, Pediatrician at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital in New York