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Baby congestion: What to expect and how to help

On average, children experience six significant upper respiratory infections a year for their first 2 years of life—and although ensuring that your baby is well hydrated and well rested can help prevent some of those infections, she’ll inevitably get sick due to her immature immune system. Read on to learn what you should know about...

babyeyesopenOn average, children experience six significant upper respiratory infections a year for their first 2 years of life—and although ensuring that your baby is well hydrated and well rested can help prevent some of those infections, she’ll inevitably get sick due to her immature immune system. Read on to learn what you should know about caring for your baby when she’s got the sniffles.
When your baby is congested, he’s bound to be uncomfortable, so it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll cry more and be fussier (and honestly, can you blame him?). Holding your baby close to you with his head by your shoulder can help comfort him, and the upright position also helps his nose to drain. You should also be prepared for your baby’s congestion to affect other parts of his daily routine.
“Congestion often interferes with eating. This is true for breast or bottle-feeding or even eating solids later in infancy. The trick is to realize that this is okay: Congested babies will change their patterns of nursing,” says Charlotte Cowan, M.D., a pediatrician. “They may interrupt themselves to breathe; they may nurse for shorter periods of time more frequently. But parents do need to watch their baby’s diapers to make sure they are as wet as normal. A fall off in the frequency of peeing and pooping is a sign that the baby is not getting enough to eat.”
Congestion not only causes an upset in an infant’s eating patterns, but also makes it more difficult for her to sleep comfortably. “Babies who are congested will sleep with their mouths open. Sometimes congested babies do better if you let them sleep in their car seats, with their heads up, to promote drainage from their noses,” suggests Cowan. However, if you let your child sleep in his car seat, check him frequently to ensure that his position isn’t obstructing his breathing.
Most over-the-counter infant decongestants have been pulled off the market due to their questionable safety and effectiveness. But if, and only if your child’s pediatrician OKs it, OTC infant pain relievers may be used to ease your baby’s discomfort.
“The best remedy for treating congestion is proper bulb suctioning with saline solution. Babies are nose breathers and don’t have the ability to blow their nose on their own. Bulb suctioning is the parent’s way of blowing the young child’s nose—it should take place prior to every feeding and prior to sleep,” says Brenda Darling, a pharmacist in the emergency department at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. You can also help relieve your baby’s congestion by setting up a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier in his nursery.
While bulb suctioning is effective for decongesting your baby’s nasal cavities, it won’t do anything to help her cough if that’s one of her other symptoms. Fortunately, though, coughing isn’t much cause for worry, and in some ways, it can actually be beneficial when your baby’s fighting off an infection. “Coughing, though it can be nuisance, isn’t a bad symptom to have for a young child. It enables the body to expel foreign particles that, if lingered within the lung cavity, could cause respiratory illness. Keeping your child well hydrated with non-carbonated fluids or slightly watered down formula or milk will help the clearance of foreign particles and decrease coughing,” explains Darling.

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