2 simple tricks to ease your baby’s nasal congestion
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!)
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.
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.
Basem Farouk Abdel-AzizFebruary 1, 2023 at 4:24 pm
Using breastmilk to clear nasal congestion and unclog nasal discharge is not evidence based. Thence using saline nasal drops is more cautious and much less esoteric. Clinical trials are needed to establish the benefit and logic of breastmilk. Side effects and adverse events need to be put in closer focus. Better to carry out such investigations in multicultural perspective. I contend that studies in this directions need to be properly administered and funded. As an allopathic physician, public health consultant, assistant professor of health management planning and policy I am willing and able to participate in a multinational study to establish the efficacy and effectiveness of breast milk in countering infant nasal congestion.
Jennifer LopezJanuary 4, 2023 at 7:20 pm
How often can you do the breast milk up the nose?
Erika Krumbeck, NDJanuary 18, 2023 at 9:23 am
As often as you need!
BionazeDecember 13, 2022 at 6:29 am
I love the topic of your content, and it’s a brilliant tip! Thank you for sharing this excellent content. I am going to apply your suggestions to my child. Great post!
SusanSeptember 8, 2022 at 2:50 pm
My baby has being cogested for 3months now, it clears some times and comes back again, it disturbs his sleep alot. Doctors said he will outgrow it, but he is 4months now , yet it’s still there . No mucus is seen in his nose
Erika Krumbeck, NDSeptember 14, 2022 at 9:11 am
This is super common! Many babies have very small airways and nasal passages. It usually gets better by around 12 months.
RainieApril 12, 2022 at 8:12 am
Hello. Does sleeping in air-con room cause nasal congestion for babies? I’ve put humidifier and purifier in the room but my LO still gets stuffy nose.
Molly GroveApril 5, 2022 at 4:12 am
My LO is 4 months old and has a milk allergy so he can not drink my breast milk. Can I still use it in his nose for the congestion?
Erika Krumbeck, NDApril 6, 2022 at 10:42 am
I would recommend saline drops to be on the safe side.
ThandoFebruary 22, 2022 at 4:47 pm
Wow I just put breast milk in my son’s blocked nose and it works wonders… He’s already fast asleep. THANKS DOC
Casey TJuly 20, 2021 at 11:58 pm
These tricks work!!! I’m a practicing Physician Assistant so most of my education and training is allopathic (mainstream medicine). However, I’m intrigued with naturopathic practice of medicine especially with very young children. The breast milk idea was genuis. Been dealing with a very congested 3 month old for the past 3 weeks. Tried typical saline (which actually hurt his belly and I’m sure his nose), nasal bulb, humidifier and eucalyptus oil. The min we substituted the nasal saline for breast milk, he’s congestion improved.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
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Mrs.GJuly 15, 2019 at 6:51 am
Pls how many time in a day, for the breast milk up nose.
Mrs.GJuly 15, 2019 at 6:34 am
Can i use breastmilk for one month plus two week baby
Nqabisa SomdyalaMarch 14, 2019 at 10:48 pm
My LO was born at 28 weeks Sep last yr. Only breastfed until Dec while at NICU then he was given NAN. Now i feel like he is not gaining much weight and he has this grunting noise that sounds like congestion when feeding him and its difficult to even finish a bottle. I have saline nasal spray, humidifier…nothing seems to help. Will changing the formula maybe work?
Erika Krumbeck, NDMarch 15, 2019 at 8:56 am
I highly recommend that he be seen by his pediatrician or primary care provider. Infants that are grunting should be checked out to make sure they are not in respiratory distress.
[email protected]February 16, 2019 at 12:28 pm
Mine she is one month is it safe to put beast milk in her nose shes struggling to breath shes using her mouth even now im worried
Erika Krumbeck, NDFebruary 18, 2019 at 10:26 am
Yes, breast milk is safe even at an early age. However, if your little one is truly struggling to breathe you need to call your doctor or 911. See this article about signs of respiratory distress in infants: https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/signs-respiratory-distress-children
MaxFebruary 7, 2019 at 11:06 am
Hey hey, I was going nuts trying to figure out a way to get my baby boy to breathe better. He gets sick often. I bought this little gadget thing and it helps so much. Hope this info helps someone else.
CuriosityApril 18, 2018 at 1:56 pm
Is there any evidence for this treatment?
ReinaldoNovember 16, 2017 at 4:06 am
Try Dr.Kids HIMASAL- Natural Saline Solution. First, it’s natural and sourced from Himalayan Salt. Second, it comes in premeasured single doses. It’s really amazing how easy. Enough with sharing disgusting bottles!!!! You will never use those nasty bottles again.
DanielaAugust 17, 2017 at 9:47 pm
Thanks so much for this post! One quick question when I put the saline drops or the breastmilk I think my baby is swallowing the mucus because he savors something. Is that OK? Or should I give him the drops or breastmilk when he is upright?
Anne Christine MillerOctober 11, 2018 at 6:04 pm
Swallowing mucus is normal, and shouldn’t be of concern.
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