How to help your congested baby sleep more comfortably - Evidence Based Babies
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How to help your congested baby sleep more comfortably

There’s nothing quite as heartbreaking as seeing your sick baby struggling to breastfeed or to sleep while congested.

As we know, babies are born obligate nasal breathers. This means that they can only breathe through their noses until around 2-6 months of age, unless they’re crying.

This means that they won’t be able to breastfeed very comfortably or effectively as they will have to unlatch frequently to breathe. It will also make sleeping much more uncomfortable, especially since mucous and phlegm have a way to block the nose even more when we lie down.

Luckily there are a few tips and tricks to make feeding and sleeping more comfortable for a sick and congested baby.

What is congestion?

Congestion is when your nasal passages are completely full due to an excess build-up of mucus. Some refer to this as a runny or stuffy nose. Your baby might experience a completely blocked nose or have fluid running down your baby’s throat or out of their nose.

Congestion is part of the body’s way of fighting off viruses and viral infections to keep your body healthy and strong. Baby chest congestion is when babies start to cough or wheeze because of their blocked noses.

Some common symptoms your baby might experience with congestion include:

● Runny nose
● Sore throat
● Sneezing
● Noisy breathing
● Coughing
● Not eating much
● Being more fuzzy than normal

What causes congestion in babies?

Your baby’s nose can become congested for a number of reasons.

– Because infants are still building up their immune systems, sometimes a common cold or a high fever can give your baby a runny nose because they are at a higher risk.

– Ear infections and many respiratory infections can also cause newborn congestion.

– If your baby is around cigarette smoke or other pollutants, this can also cause your baby’s nasal congestion.

– Dry air or poor air quality can also cause young babies to get a blocked nose as well.

– While it is less common in newborn babies, allergies from pollen or pet dander can potentially cause your baby’s congestion as well.

What makes congestion worse, especially at night?

Infant congestion is definitely not fun and is most often worse at night.
Lying down will increase the blood flow to your head, which can cause the blood vessels in your little one’s nose to swell and become inflamed.

Your baby will then have some difficulty breathing, which can cause your baby’s stuffy nose.

If your baby’s room is colder at night, their body temperature will most likely drop, which can make their stuffy nose much worse. During the night, the air quality is typically drier, which is a common cause of congestion. The dry air can irritate your baby’s nostrils and give them a stuffy nose too.

How to make your baby feed and sleep more comfortably when they’re congested

Most babies can’t breathe through their mouths until they are older, so they struggle to sleep at night when they are congested.

If you are struggling with a fussy baby, there are plenty of things you can try to do to help bring them relief and help you all get a good night’s sleep.

Saline spray with a nasal aspirator

One of the first things many new parents try is a saline nasal spray. Spray 1 or 2 saline drops into each nostril.

Once you let the saline solution sit in your baby’s blocked nose for a few minutes, use your suction bulb syringe to remove the excess mucus.

While you can use a nasal spray without a nasal aspirator, the combination seems to be the most helpful to help break up the excess mucus and clear your baby’s nose.

Use a humidifier

One of the best home remedies to help with your baby’s discomfort is to use a cold-mist humidifier in your baby’s room at night. This is one of the safe ways to help a congested baby get that much-needed rest.

You can also turn on a hot shower and sit in the steamy bathroom with your newborn. This acts as a humidifier and can help clear your baby’s nostrils as well.

Breastfeed Your Baby

Breastfeeding is very beneficial to your baby, especially during times of sickness. Breast milk is a great way to help your baby get all the nutrients they need to fight off colds or viruses., especially since it’d full of active antibodies.

It can be harder for babies to feed well when they have a stuffy nose, so the best thing you can do for your baby’s well-being is to make sure they feed as much as possible. They’ll probably take small feedings more frequently until they’re more comfortable again.

You can also make sure to increase your Vitamin C intake yourself so it will pass on to your baby.

Give your baby a bath

Bathing in nice, warm water can help with baby congestion as well. A warm bath is very soothing and can help your baby sleep better once they get out.

Give your baby a massage

After a nice warm bath, gently massage their nasal passages. This can help to break up the mucus and clear their airways.

Massage the cheekbones, eyebrows, head, and lymph nodes on the neck. Be sure to be very gentle.

Offer your baby lots of snuggles

Sometimes, babies just need extra snuggles from you when they are sick. Give them lots of cuddles during your night routine to help them feel safe and loved.

Being close to you when they are sick or congested is sometimes enough to help them feel much better!

Keep their room clean

Dust, pollen and pet hair can all give your baby a stuffy nose at night. Make sure their room stays nice and clean.

Vacuum the room daily and air out the room every now and then again to keep the air quality nice and fresh.

Practice safe sleep

The most important thing to remember is to keep your baby safe while they sleep. You may be tempted to let them sleep more upright, on their side or on their tummy. But it’s important to remember that there is a much bigger risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome SIDS with unsafe sleep practices.

The best sleep position, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is on a flat and firm mattress, not in an upright position.

The risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is very serious, and no matter how congested your baby is, you must take preventive measures to reduce the risk. Keep your baby on a flat surface, as this is the safest sleeping position for them. Do not add a rolled-up towel or extra pillows to try to keep your baby upright.

If you bedshare with your baby, be sure to always follow the safe 7 sleep guidelines and don’t change anything to your sleep surface that can put them at risk, and definitely never sleep on a couch with your baby, only a firm mattrass whether it’s in their bassinet or crib or your bed.

During the day, if you can, hold your baby while they sleep by means of babywearing. This will help to keep your baby’s head upright and reduce congestion as much as possible. However, you must ensure that you are fully awake to make sure they don’t slip into an unsafe position.

Cold Medications

Depending on why your baby has congestion and their age, you might be able to offer some cold medication, only if your doctor has recommended and prescribed it.

However, make sure to ask your healthcare provider for medical advice to see if cold medicine is the right option for your congested baby.

Most don’t recommend using medicine or a vapor rub until your baby is at least two years old. But if your baby has been sick for a while, your healthcare provider can see if there is something safe to help bring your baby comfort.

Important notes on babies feeding and sleeping while congested

Babies are born obligate nasal breathers. Feeding while congested will be especially difficult in the first few months for small babies.

Always try to make your baby as comfortable as possible with natural remedies such as saline nose spray and nasal aspirators, keeping baby more upright during the day while babywearing, feeding them in a room full of steam etc.

Do not let your baby sleep on an unsafe surface, whether they sleep in their bassinet or crib or with you in your bed. Keep their sleep surface as safe as possible.

If you ever need any information or support related to anything breastfeeding, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

If you’re ever worried about your or your baby’s health, contact your healthcare provider for medical attention immediately.

Additional information and resources

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe sleep guidelines

The World Health Organization safe sleep guidelines

Effect of sleeping position on nasal patency in newborns


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