Babies, like adults, will end up breathing through their mouths if needed. Just like when you’re sick, your baby may have to deal with uncomfortable mouth-breathing for a while. Thankfully though, this will usually allow them to breathe while they sleep.
Unless your baby has a serious lung condition like bronchiolitis, they will not stop breathing while they sleep. You may choose to elevate the head of the crib a little, but don’t put any sleep aids or objects in the crib itself — they could pose a suffocation risk.
But, how can parents be assured that their stuffy-nosed baby is OK to be put to sleep? You want your baby to get the sleep they need, but you also want to ensure they’re safe when you put them in their crib.
Take a look at your congested baby, awake or asleep. Ask yourself, 'If I took the nose out of the equation, would my baby still be working hard to breathe?' What I mean is, is the nose the problem or is the issue in the lungs? If you think it’s in the lungs, always call your pediatrician.
Nasal congestion often causes restless sleep since it’s so annoying to breathe through, and it can dry out the mouth. This should improve on its own in three to four days. If, however, your baby starts to get better and then worsens again, they should be seen by a doctor.
If your baby has a stuffy nose with no lung involvement, you should be able to put them to bed without any significant safety risks safely. (So no, you don't have to keep standing over their crib and watch them breathe all night long.)
However, you can help them cope with the irritation of having a clogged nasal passage with some tried and true home remedies like sitting in a steamy bathroom, using a humidifier, or clearing the nose with nasal saline.
If a baby has significant congestion before bedtimes or feeding times, parents can gently spray sterile nasal saline mist into both nares, and then use a nasal bulb syringe to remove any mucus carefully. Parents should avoid clearing congestion more than a few times a day unless directed by their child’s pediatrician.
Most of the time, a common cold is to blame for a stuffy nose, but for babies who don't just have occasional nasal congestion, or if it's paired with other symptoms like a fever or pain, a trip to the pediatrician may be in order.
There are many causes of nasal congestion, but if the problem is long-lasting or associated with a fever or other symptoms, a consultation with a physician is a first step to rule out allergies, reflux or an upper respiratory infection.
Nasal congestion can also be caused by mouth breathing and associated with snoring. Both of these problems are signs of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and should be brought to the attention of your pediatric specialist.
Additionally, it's important to monitor your baby's feedings to make sure that their nasal congestion isn't interfering with their ability to eat. This can also signify that your child's physician needs to get involved.
Newborns have a hard time feeding well if they can’t breathe through their noses, so if you notice that your newborn is taking an unusually long time to feed or seems to be short of breath with feeds, seek care. Always call if your baby is wheezing, making a grunting sound with each breath, or if you notice the skin pulling between or under the ribs or over the breastbone.
When in doubt, a quick call to your pediatrician is never a bad idea. They are the best resource for your baby's health and safety.
Baby Nursery FAQs
Unlike adults, babies lack cartilage on their noses. This means if that nose is pressed on an object, such as a stuffed animal or couch cushions, for example, that can rapidly flatten. Having its nostrils blocked, the baby doesn't have a chance of breathing and suffocating.
Using nasal drops or spray should clear your baby's nose and help them sleep better. The temptation may be to put them down to sleep on their side, as you may be worried your baby can't breathe at night. Don't do this – you must always put your baby to sleep on their back, which is the safest position.
Run a humidifier in your baby's room while they sleep to help loosen mucus. Cool mist is safest because there aren't any hot parts on the machine. If you don't have a humidifier, run a hot shower and sit in the steamy bathroom for a few minutes multiple times per day.
Put the towel under the mattress, as no pillows or blankets should ever go in the crib with your baby while they sleep. Also, remember that you should always put your baby to sleep on their back.
What causes nighttime nasal congestion in children? Children and infants have narrower nasal passageways than adults, making them more susceptible to nighttime congestion caused by inflammation or excess mucus.
Stuffy Nose – Babies (6-24 months)
Baby nasal congestion or baby “stuffy nose” is typically caused by anything inflamed the nasal tissues - usually a cold, influenza, sinusitis, or allergies. Overall, baby congestion is extremely annoying and nothing to worry about, but it can affect sleep and eating habits.
For our newborns with a stuffy nose, it is tough to breastfeed or drink from a bottle when your nose is completely clogged because the baby can’t breathe through their nose. Newborn or infant congestion can be more problematic than it is with our older kiddos, so let’s figure out what to do with our infant’s stuffy nose!
Today we will cover:
- Causes for baby’s congestion
- When we should seek medical advice
- How to decongest a baby and help them get more comfortable
- Saline for baby’s nose and tips on how to unclog a baby’s nose
Causes Our Baby’s Stuffy Nose
As stated above, when we have a cold or something similar, our noses get inflamed. The tissues, blood vessels, and nasal polyps inside your nose become swollen with extra fluid, creating that very “full” or “stuffy” feeling. With our little babes, their noses are so tiny! So a little inflammation for us is very different from their tiny baby congested nose.
And does it seem like your baby is more congested at night? This isn’t just to spite your poor, hard-working parents! Our bodies react differently to allergens at night, and as much as we need gravity, it is not helpful when it comes to a baby’s stuffy nose at night. Mucus builds up and has nowhere to go, increasing nasal congestion.
Do you know what’s common, beginning at six months of age? The common cold. You know what else? Teething. Great, we know. Another mystery of wondering what ailment your little one is dealing with.
So, do babies get stuffy noses while they’re teething? Usually not. Teething can sometimes be related to a runny nose due to inflammation of the mouth and gums, but if what you’re seeing in your infant is nasal congestion, it’s likely the common cold.
The good news is that neither of these is cause for alarm or a reason to see the pediatrician unless other symptoms arise that we’ll discuss shortly.
Our babies can have a stuffy nose with no other symptoms, but often, our baby’s stuffy nose can come with other symptoms.
- Runny nose (yep, we often get both!)
- Irritability or fussiness
- Coughing (possibly worse at night)
- Decreased appetite or difficulty eating due to a stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes
- Vomiting or spitting up
What Stuffy Nose Symptoms Are Concerning? When Should We Seek Medical Advice?
- If your baby is under three months old, chat with the doctor sooner than later. Things progress quickly in our little guys, better safe than sorry!
- If symptoms last longer than ten days.
- Sinus pain or sinus pressure along with symptoms. Our tiny babies won’t be able to tell us this, so you’ll have to use your Mommy Radar to determine if they’re having head/sinus pain that doesn’t feel normal to you.
- Ear pain. The build-up from stuffy noses puts our babies at risk for ear infections, so if they appear to be grabbing or pawing at that ear while they are more fussy than usual, call the doc.
- Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, not as many wet diapers)
- Yellow or green “goop”/discharge from their eyes.
- Sometimes our babies spit up or throw up because of mucus draining their throat or excessive crying. This can be normal. If it is ever blood-tinged or you feel like it’s from something else (feeding intolerance, GI bug, etc.), call your doctor.
- If you’re ever concerned it is not related to a cold or virus, ask your doctor. Maybe it’s allergy-related or something else more serious. Follow your gut!
- Anytime your babe is wheezing or has trouble breathing - go to the emergency room.
- Fever, depending on age: 0-3 months: >100.4 F; 3-24 months: >102 F; 2 yrs+: >104 F
There’s also a myth that green or yellow drainage means we’ve got a bacterial infection and need antibiotics. This CAN be true but not always. One trick: does it START green or yellow right out of the gate?
This could be a sign of a bacterial infection or a sinus infection. But if it starts to clear and changes to thick and colourful, it’s likely a viral infection that your kiddo’s body is fighting off. High five, Body!
What Can We Do To Help Our Baby’s Stuffy Nose?
- Increase fluids! This is the most important thing you can do, as it thins out the mucus and helps us get it OUT!
- Suction bulb, drops or sprays. You can use saline spray or nose drops to thin the mucus, then use a bulb syringe to clear their tiny nose. (A nasal suction bulb or infant nasal aspirator are great options.) A few times a day is plenty for suctioning and clearing mucus; we don’t want to cause extra irritation to the nasal passages. Let’s run through a brief how-to below!
- Cool-mist humidifiers. Another way to moisten the mucus is by moistening the air!
- Put protective skin ointment (such as Aquaphor) around their nostrils to help with breakdown or chapping. A very thin layer and I’d like to emphasise - around, not IN the nose.
- Wash your hands every time you help your love with their germs. And wash their little hands, too!
- Ibuprofen or Tylenol for discomfort. Baby congestion medicines such as over-the-counter cough and cold or nasal sprays are not recommended in our kiddos because they haven’t been proven or medically reviewed. Focus on baby congestion remedies instead! No ibuprofen for babies < 6 months old and no meds for babies < 3 months old - call the doc!
How To Unclog Baby Nose Using A Saline Spray Or Nose Drops And A Bulb Syringe Or Infant Nasal Aspirator
- For infants, saline nose drops will be easier to use. For young children and beyond, saline sprays can be used. Both options help loosen the mucus and bring it down into the nose, making it easier to clean by wiping, suctioning, or blowing for the older kids.
- Put 2-3 drops or sprays into each nostril. Your baby might sneeze or cough with this - that’s okay and might help clear the nose too!
- If you choose a nasal suction bulb, make sure you squeeze the bulb first to get rid of the air and keep it compressed while you insert the end of the bulb syringe into your baby’s nostril. Please don’t go too far, or it will irritate their nasal passage. Once in the nostril, release the bulb syringe to let air back in. This creates a vacuum and will pull mucus into the bulb with the air.
- If you choose an infant nasal aspirator, place the soft tip into the baby’s nostril - again, not too far. You will then inhale through the mouthpiece (think: drinking from a straw), and mucus will be caught in the filter (thank goodness).
It’s never fun to watch when your little love is miserable. And then you add boogies and less sleep to the mix, and it leaves you praying for healthier days. You’ll get there! Trust your instincts and if everything feels okay (albeit uncomfortable), let this run its course. And don’t leave the house without kleenexes. You’re going to need them!
Tips to Comfort Your Sick Baby
When your baby is sick with a cold, some simple remedies and a big dose of love can make them feel comfier. And of course, that means you'll get a lot more rest, too!
Make Sleep Easier
Your baby's stuffy head, runny nose, or cough can awake them. Try these tips:
Use a humidifier or cool-mist vaporiser. They add needed moisture to the air in their bedroom. That helps keep their nasal passages moist and reduces nighttime coughing and stuffiness. Be sure to clean the device regularly so mould doesn't grow inside it.
Raise your baby's head. Lying flat makes a cough worse, which is bad news for bedtime. Lifting the head of your baby's crib a few inches can help. You can also place books under the legs or roll up a towel and put it under the head of the mattress.
This keeps the mucus draining in the right direction and helps ease coughing.
Like grownups, babies need plenty to drink when they're sick. Fluids help thin mucus, which makes it easier to clear.
For babies under six months, breast milk and formula are the best options. Older babies can also have water, juice, or small amounts of rehydration solutions.
Offer small amounts of warm, clear fluids to help thin out mucus for older babies. Try 1 to 3 teaspoons of warm apple juice or water four times a day while the cough lasts.
If your kid is older than 12 months, you can also use honey. Offer 1/2 teaspoon to a teaspoon throughout the day as needed. You can use it before bed, too. Studies show it works better than cough syrup to ease hacking at night.
For coughing spasms, try the mist from a warm shower. Sit with your baby in a steamy bathroom.
When You Need To Treat A Fever
You don't need to treat every high temperature. If your child is drinking and doesn't seem too uncomfortable, it's fine to leave the fever be. But if she's uncomfortable, not drinking, or otherwise acting ill, bringing down the fever may help her feel better.
Check with your doctor about whether you should use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for a fever. The doctor can recommend the right dose, especially if your child is under 2. Don't use ibuprofen in infants under six months.
One note of caution -- don't give cough and cold medicine to kids under 4. If your child is between 4 and 6, talk to your doctor about whether you should give medicine to relieve symptoms.
One of the safest and most effective ways to help clear a baby’s congestion is with a saline (saltwater) spray or nose drops. These products are available without a prescription.
If you use drops, place two drops in each nostril to loosen the mucus inside. Then use a suction bulb immediately afterwards to withdraw the saline and mucus. You can place a rolled-up towel under your baby’s shoulders to gently tilt the head back a little to make sure the drops get up into the nose.
Squeeze the bulb before you place it in the nose. When you release the bulb, it will pull out mucus from inside. If you squeeze when the bulb is already inside a nostril, it will give off a puff of air that could push the mucus farther into the nasal cavity.
Squeeze out any mucus inside the bulb onto a tissue.
Do this about 15 minutes before you feed your child and before bedtime. This will help your baby breathe more easily when they nurse, take a bottle, or go down to sleep.
Some saline solutions also contain medicine. Avoid these. Plain saline drops or sprays will work fine. Just make sure to wash and dry the suction bulb after each use.
There are other ways to moisten the nasal passages.
A vaporiser or humidifier that releases a cool mist into the room is usually safe, as long as you keep it out of your baby’s reach. Place it close enough so that the mist reaches your baby while they sleep or while you’re in the room together, snuggling or playing.
To avoid mould and bacteria growth, change the water every day, and clean and dry the vaporiser, according to the machine’s instructions.
You may also try this tried-and-true solution: Take your baby into the shower. Let your shower and bathroom get nice and steamy while holding your baby close for a few minutes. This can help to clear your baby’s head before bedtime.
Don’t use hot water in a humidifier since it can cause burns.