Baby congestion

Newborn babies will experience nasal congestion (snuffles) quite often, as they naturally accumulate mucus in their noses but can’t easily clear it out. Chest and nasal congestion are also typical symptoms of colds, flu and other respiratory infections, to which your newborn baby is more susceptible. Find out how to help a congested baby at home and when you may need to call your doctor.

Your Baby’s Congested Nose and Chest: Why It Happens

Nasal congestion is common in babies younger than 6 months, as they naturally build up mucus without a way to clear it – your newborn can’t simply blow their nose like older children and adults can. So, although common colds and other infections can make baby congestion worse, a stuffy nose can also happen without your little one being ill.

Chest congestion or congestion that affects your baby’s nose and throat is typically caused by respiratory tract infections (RTIs), such as a cold. With hundreds of different cold viruses – none of which your little one has been exposed to yet – it’s not surprising that babies tend to have about eight colds each year. As they grow older and build immunity, colds will be less frequent.

In most cases, baby congestion caused by respiratory tract infections can be treated at home with simple remedies that help alleviate symptoms and gradually move the virus out of the body. Although most colds go away in about five to seven days for children, it could take up to two weeks for newborns and younger babies.

Baby Congestion Symptoms

The most common symptoms of newborn nasal congestion are

  • making more noise when breathing

  • having more trouble with feeds.

Your baby sounds congested if they ‘snort’ while breathing, and because children younger than 6 months can’t breathe through their mouths yet, nasal congestion will make feeding more challenging. This can also make your baby more tired than usual and interrupt sleep.

If your newborn’s stuffy nose is due to a respiratory tract infection, you may notice some of the following additional symptoms:

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing (wet with green or yellow mucus)

  • Wheezing, breathlessness

  • Fever

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Crying from discomfort (body aches, headaches, sinus pressure, etc.).

In Summary

Baby congestion is natural, as your newborn will accumulate mucus in their nose without being able to clear it out. Common baby congestion symptoms include noisy breathing, trouble feeding and sleepiness.

If your newborn also has a respiratory tract infection, like a cold, their stuffy nose may be worse and accompany other symptoms, such as sneezing, a wet cough, fever, crying, wheezing or a runny nose.

Baby Chest Congestion: Dry or Wet Cough

If your baby’s cough sounds wet (wheezing) or accompanies mucus, it’s most likely due to chest congestion. Coughs tend to last about three or four weeks and typically clear up on their own. Respiratory tract infections are the main causes of chest congestion, as they infect sinuses, throat, airways or lungs.

If your baby’s cough doesn’t accompany other symptoms or sounds dry or irritated, they most likely don’t have chest congestion. Dry coughs are often characteristic of conditions like whooping cough, which can produce a ‘whoop’ sound when gasping for breath between coughs.

Although coughs can clear up on their own in a matter of weeks, it’s best to contact your doctor or call 111 if your baby is younger than 6 months and has a dry, persistent cough or a wet cough that involves wheezing.

It’s important to note that experts don’t recommend decongestants for kids younger than 6 years nor certain over-the-counter cough medicine for children younger than 12 years, so always check with your doctor before giving your child medication.

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How to Help a Congested Baby

Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything to combat baby congestion. If nasal or chest congestion isn’t interfering with your baby’s feeds or sleeping, you can simply wait for the mucus or infection to clear on its own. However, if your baby feels unwell, can’t sleep or has trouble with feeds, the following remedies might provide some relief:

  • Remove the mucus. If your baby is congested but no snot is coming out, you can try stroking the inside of their nostril with cotton wool to prompt a sneeze. If that doesn’t do the trick to remove the mucus, talk to your health visitor or doctor about using bulb syringes.

  • Humidify the air. Loosen the mucus by using a cold-steam humidifier in your baby’s room. This can especially help if your baby is congested at night.

  • Use saline drops. Talk to your doctor about using saline drops to help thin out the mucus, making it easier to remove. Only use these drops if your baby’s nostrils are fully blocked and remove the mucus with a bulb syringe immediately after using the saline drops.

  • Encourage rest. Help your baby to rest and sleep, staying as warm and cosy as possible. You can do this by soothing your baby with rocking or a warm bath.

  • Give extra feedings. If feeding is difficult for your little one, you may need to provide extra feedings throughout the day and remove mucus before feeding. Extra feeds can also increase fluids to prevent dehydration in babies, especially if they have a respiratory tract infection.

  • Pain relief medication. Talk to your doctor first, but if your little one appears to be feeling unwell, your GP may recommend using liquid pain relief to help reduce pain, aches or pressure due to baby congestion.

  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke around your baby, they have a great risk of developing serious chest illnesses that can cause nasal congestion and coughing, such as bronchiolitis, asthma, croup and pneumonia.

In Summary

There are some easy at-home remedies that can help relieve baby nasal congestion. You can use saline drops or a cold-steam humidifier to loosen and thin the mucus, making it easier to remove with a bulb syringe and for your baby to breathe. If you’re a smoker, avoid smoking around your baby.

Baby Congestion: When to See Your Doctor

As mentioned above, contact your doctor when your baby’s cough gets worse, persistent or accompanies wheezing or a whooping sound. Call 999 or take your baby to A&E if you notice the following symptoms, which may indicate a more serious illness:

  • A fever, especially when your newborn is less than 3 months old

  • If your baby has trouble breathing or is breathing rapidly or irregularly

  • Your child appears to be very unwell, seems extra tired and floppy or is pale and sweaty

  • A cough that lasts longer than three weeks

  • Your little one coughs up blood or has blood-stained mucus

  • Your baby has swollen glands or is losing weight.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • There are a few things you can try to help your baby’s congestion:

    • Use saline drops and clear out any mucus using a bulb syringe
    • Place a cold-steam humidifier in your baby’s room
    • Encourage rest and give your baby extra feeds to stay hydrated
    • Don’t smoke around your baby.
  • If your baby has the following symptoms in addition to having congestion, you should contact your doctor:

    • A persistent cough that gets worse or lasts longer than three weeks
    • A fever
    • Bloody mucus
    • Weight loss
    • Appearing unwell, pale or sweaty
    • Swollen glands.
  • Try using a cold-steam humidifier in your baby’s room. Humid air may help to moisten and loosen the mucus and make it easier for your baby to breathe while sleeping.

The Bottom Line

Congestion is something your baby will experience from time to time, as it’s a common symptom of natural mucus accumulation or a cold. Easy home remedies and treatments, like clearing your little one’s nose with saline spray and using a cold-steam humidifier in the bedroom, can help ease your baby’s congested nose or chest.

You can also clear nasal passages with saline drops followed by suctioning out the mucus with a bulb syringe. Try doing this before a feeding and bedtime so it’s easier for your baby to feed and sleep. Before you know it – with your gentle care and lots of cuddles – your little one will be back to their old self again!

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.