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How to Prevent Nasal Congestion In Babies

Updated on February 2, 2009

Nasal congestion in babies can lead to a number of health problems associated with breathing and sleeping difficulties.

A young mother once brought her eight-month old son to me with a request to provide an acupuncture or acupressure treatment that would help to alleviate his stuffy nose. While asking about her baby's health history, I discovered that his nasal congestion came about whenever his body experienced a cold. Dried-up mucous obstructed his nasal passageway, making it difficult for him to breathe and sleep.

I also learned that the baby's mother did her very best to keep her baby from crying for any reason. She was deeply committed to raising her baby according to principles of attachment parenting. Whenever her baby began to fuss due to discomfort that he felt from his stuffy nose, she would immediately hold him to her chest and soothe him before he could get too upset.

I explained to the mother that in her baby's case, it was possible that allowing him to cry for several minutes whenever he became too uncomfortable with his stuffy nose could actually solve his problem.

Whenever any of us cry, excess tears flow toward the inner corner of each of our eyes and enter two tubes called the lacrimal ducts. From our lacrimal ducts, our excess tears flow down a bigger tube called the nasolacrimal duct, which actually opens into our nasal passageway. This is why a "runny nose" can accompany a good crying session.

Allowing a baby to cry and produce tears when he or she is bothered by a nasal passageway that is plugged up by dried-up mucous can actually send tears into the nasal passageway to dissolve the mucous.

In the young mother's case, this advice led to considerable improvement in her baby's comfort level, as her baby's tears effectively softened and helped to eliminate dried-up bits of mucous from his nasal passageway. She also followed my suggestion to use a soft cloth to dab at her baby's nostrils every once in a while when he cried to help "wick" excess tears and mucous away from his nasal passageway.

Some other suggestions that I shared with her:

  1. Before giving her baby a bath at night, sit with her baby in the bathroom with a hot shower running to create a steam room. About 15 minutes of being in a steam room can also help to soften dried-up mucous in a baby's nasal passageway.

  2. While in the bath or by the sink, use her cupped hand to bring small amounts of warm water up against her baby's nostrils, giving him the opportunity to draw some of it up into his nasal passageway.

  3. Use a warm mist humidifier while her baby sleeps.

  4. Be sure to avoid pasteurized dairy products, which can lead to nasal congestion of a different variety - one that is related to a food allergic reaction that thickens the mucous membrane in the nasal passageway, making it difficult to breathe. This is applicable to the baby and his or her mom if the baby is still being breastfed.

  5. Strive to keep her baby's sleep and play areas relatively free of dust. When breathed in regularly, dust can contribute to larger bits of dried-up mucous. Dust can also stimulate an allergic-type reaction that can cause nasal congestion in the same manner that food allergic reactions can.

I hope that this post ends up being helpful to some mothers and babies out there. If you know of any other helpful tips for addressing nasal congestion in babies, please consider sharing them in the comments section below.


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Anonymous said...

This may sound wierd, but this worked wonders for my baby! When he would get congested and could not nurse I would pump some breastmilk and while it was still fresh I would fill an eye dropper with the breastmilk, lay him down and gently and quickly as i could I would empty the dropper into his nose...within a couple of seconds he would sneeze and out would come EVERYTHING! (yuck!)The breastmilk breaks everything up snd sends it shooting out of his nose. I would repeat this a couple of times in each nostril and it would COMPLETELY clear him up:)
Saturday, November 25, 2006 11:07:16 AM

When baby is congested, apart from Karvol and Vicks usage, you can also raise baby's sleeping position to a 30-45 degree angle on a pillow. This helps alleviate some of or stop further congestion. Worked wonders for Adam Daniel and I heard his breathing ease. Thanx for the useful info above.

Whenever my children became congested and had difficulties breathing, sleeping and eating I would always make an infusion of thyme and eucalyptus leaves. This infusion is made by pouring boiling water (2 cups) onto a teaspoon of thyme and a eucalyptus leaf, this should then be covered and left to steep for 5 minutes. I would then remove the lid and sit under a blanket in a tentlike fashion with baby for about a quarter of an hour so we would both breathe in the herbal vapours. These herbs are anti virals and because they are inhaled they go straight to the whole respiratory system removing mucous and killing bacteria in a very gentle way. Obviously you must take care not to burn your baby with the hot water, so I recommend setting it on the floor and not your knee etc. I also agree that raising the baby's sleeping position is very important to prevent flooding of mucous which further complicates breathing. I would take the matress out of the bed and put the pillows under the matress to lift it to 30 degrees,this reduces risk of suffocation. Pillows can sometimes be dangerous to our babies. I am a herbalist and find your articles very interesting Dr, Kim, thank you for sharing.

Try using BREATHERIGHT NASAL STRIPS!!I have not tried these on children but I know they can be quite useful on adults. They are not just for snoring. They really open up the breathing passage. They come in child size.

I found a product that helped me clearing my baby's nasal passages. My pediatrician recommended it to me, it's called the Snotarator. I have never heard of it before, it's very unusual, but now that I had to use it, I'm sure glad I found it! It is a nasal vacuum that is more efficient than any other nasal aspirator that I have ever tried. I probably have all the other aspirators/suction devices that are out on the market, but this one is hands down the best!

Good advice, Dr. Kim, to let the baby cry in this therapeutic manner. Unfortunately, some parents let them cry & cry & cry to teach them to bear life's difficulties. I am glad you made the distinction!

I just wanted to say what the first commenter already wrote: I have done the same thing with breast milk in an eye dropper squirted up my son's nostrils and it works wonderfully. Try to have your baby's head tilted back for several seconds so the milk can get up and stay up there long enough to disolve everything. I found that it then takes an additional 30 seconds or so to fully work. I've always nursed him right after doing this procedure which has forced him to try to breath through his nose thus helping the mucous to clear.

When my son was born in Switzerland our local parent advisor gave us a great tip that we continue to use for the whole family.
Take an onion and chop it. For babies you can wrap it in a cheese cloth and hang it on the crib. For older kids or adults we put it on a plate under or beside the bed.
The idea behind it being when you chop an onion it makes you cry and it is this property that keeps your nasal passages clear through the night.
The whole house stinks of onion in the morning but it makes for a great night's sleep.