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The baby boogers.  Of all things that are absolutely adorable when you have a baby, the boogers are not.  They are the first sign of a cold, and usually the last symptom to leave.  Which sometimes means weeks of nasal congestion.

Why are babies so boogery?

Doesn’t it seem like babies and toddlers produce an inordinate amount of mucus? The main reason babies and toddlers seem to have excessive mucus is because they cannot blow their noses or clear it into their throat effectively like adults can.  Most children also experience the majority of their colds within the first few years of their life. (On average 7-10 colds per year!) This means that many babies and toddlers experience weeks of nasal congestion followed by…weeks of nasal congestion.

Newborns and small infants have different reasons for nasal congestion.  In the first few days of life newborns may sound congested as they continue to clear amniotic fluid out of their sinuses and nasal passages.  Even after the first few days many young infants continue to sound congested.  Dry air or irritants like cigarette smoke or smog can cause irritation to lining inside the nasal passages leading to congestion.  Some babies even sound congested without any irritants – their nasal passages are simply so tiny that any fluid that builds up normally just doesn’t have a chance to escape.  Most babies will grow out of this on their own.

Most websites and baby care books recommend saline drops up the nose to help clear mucus.  But did you know there is a super simple, wonderful substitute for saline drops?

Breastmilk up the nose

I’m serious.  It works wonders.

Breastmilk is already buffered, just like saline, so it won’t burn if you put it up the nose.  It works just as well as saline to break up mucus too!

Breastmilk also has wonderful antiviral constituents, including monolaurin and lactoferrin (in addition to vitamin A and other awesome nutrients).  That means that your baby will get his nose washed out by a solution that can naturally combat the virus directly.

The best part about breastmilk (at least for breastfeeding moms) is that it is readily available and FREE!  You can either express directly into the baby’s nose (a little tricky, but totally do-able), or pump and use a syringe or dropper to put a few drops in.  The best way is to lay your baby on her back, aim up the nose and just squirt it up there.  Babies hate it (sorry, but who really enjoys squirting things up their nose?) but then they usually sneeze or cough and the congestion clears almost immediately.  If not you can try it again, or squirt breastmilk up the nose and then suction out the boogers with a bulb syringe.

Speaking of bulb syringe – here is my second naturopathic trick:

Aim the bulb syringe out rather than up

Most of the time I see parents stick the bulb syringe straight up the nose, let go and suck the boogers out.  This works just fine, but I do want to remind you parents that this is the most painful way to remove mucus.

The nasal septum (the cartilage in the middle of the nose that separates one nostril from the other) has way more nerves than the nostrils do.  We call the “outer” part of the nostril the nares.  The nares don’t have as many nerves as the nasal septum.  When you point the bulb syringe straight up it normally rubs against the septum which is very uncomfortable.  Point the bulb syringe outward, so you mostly hit the nares.

Here’s a diagram in case you can’t figure out what I’m talking about.  (This is Leopold, my 7-month old, and the reason that this blog is a little slow to be updated lately!)

2 simple tricks to ease your baby's nasal congestion

Does this make sense?

Even better would be to use something like the Nose Frida. Then you don’t have to actually put the bulb syringe up the nose at all, which is great and much, much more comfortable for the baby.

Other tricks

Make sure you are running a humidifier at night (or throughout the day as well) if your baby is significantly congested.  As always, keep cigarette and other smoke out of the home.  You may want to check for animal dander, dust mites and dust in general if your baby is chronically congested.  Run a HEPA filter in her room if you live in an area with a lot of smog or other air pollution.

I hope these tricks help! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.

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Erika Krumbeck
Erika Krumbeck
Dr. Erika Krumbeck, ND is founder of NaturopathicPediatrics.com and the owner of Montana Whole Health, a naturopathic clinic in Missoula, Montana. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University and is a licensed physician in the state of Montana. Dr. Krumbeck is one of few physicians specializing in the treatment of chronic health conditions in children. 

Dr. Krumbeck likes to practice her own healthy lifestyle with her wonderful husband Jason, a physical therapist, and their children Annika and Leopold. 

She is a professional member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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