A stuffy nose or nasal congestion is pretty common among babies. Their airways are still tiny and they are unable to clear their noses as effectively as older children and adults. A stuffy nose may also be a symptom of colds or an allergy. Though a stuffy nose may seem a minor problem, it can interfere with your baby’s ability to breastfeed. This article will look at what you can do for your baby when a stuffy nose strikes.
Can you continue breastfeeding when your baby has a stuffy nose? Breastfeeding can be quite challenging when your baby gets irritable and uncomfortable due to a clogged nose. However, with some minor adjustments, mothers can continue breastfeeding their babies during this time. When your baby is unwell, where a stuffy nose is a common symptom, a mother’s milk provides optimum nutrition for her baby. In addition, breast milk contains unique immunologic factors that can’t be found in formula milk. In fact, these are the primary reasons why the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other health experts promote breastfeeding up to 2 years of age and beyond.
We now know how the importance of breast milk and breastfeeding is when your baby is sick. Let’s explore on how to help your baby feed more comfortably during this time. We will see how some breastfeeding techniques and comfort measures can help your baby with a stuffy nose.
What causes a stuffy nose in babies?
A stuffy nose results from the accumulation of mucus and inflammation in the nose. This is the body’s way to defend itself from foreign particles that might enter the airways. The common causes of stuffy nose in babies are due to:
- Air pollutants (cigarette smoke)
- Dry air
- Allergens (dust, pollens, animal dander)
- Viruses (colds)
Most of the time, a stuffy nose goes away by itself. But since babies have tiny airways and do not know how to blow their nose yet, they’ll need some help to clear the mucus out.
How do you breastfeed a baby with a stuffy nose?
It can be difficult to nurse your baby with a stuffy nose as due to one of the above reasons there is an obstruction to his airway while feeding. Luckily, there are some ways to facilitate breastfeeding even if your baby’s nose is congested. Here are some tips in breastfeeding a baby with a stuffy nose:
Experts advise to breastfeed your baby in positions that can facilitate better airflow while nursing. Experiment with several positions until you find which way works better for your baby. Here are some suitable positions to try out:
You can layer up several pillows on your bed and rest against them while you are breastfeeding. Then, place baby over you such that you are tummy to tummy with each other.
Australian or Koala hold position
While sitting on a chair or on your bed, place your baby on your lap facing you with his two legs apart (like your baby is riding a saddle). Support your baby’s head and neck with one hand and place him on your breast. Once your baby is positioned, you can recline to support your back.
Babies with a stuffy nose will breastfeed shorter than during their usual feed. A usual feed is being interrupted by his difficulty in breathing. Breastfeeding frequently not only ensures that your baby gets the right amount of nutrients, but the antibodies in breast milk also help fight viruses that are causing the stuffy nose.
Using a bulb syringe before breastfeeding
The use of a bulb syringe can be used to suction excess mucus that is blocking your baby’s nose so that he can nurse more effectively during a feed. Be careful when using the bulb syringe as too much pressure can hurt and irritate your baby’s nose. Do not use it after feeding your baby as it can stimulate the gag reflex which may cause your baby to vomit.
How to use a bulb syringe
- Squeeze it first to remove the air inside the bulb syringe.
- Gently insert the tip of the bulb syringe onto your baby’s nostrils. Make sure that the tip is slightly pointing away from the middle of the nose so that it won’t hurt your baby.
- Gradually release the bulb to create a suction. The suction will pull out the mucus from the nose.
- Remove the bulb syringe and wash or wipe it to remove the mucus.
- Repeat for the other nostril.
Breastfeeding in a steamy bathroom
Steam can help relieve your baby’s congestion, so why not nurse in a steamy room? One easy way to achieve it is by running hot water on your shower or tub. Set up a chair outside the shower or tub where you can sit and nurse your baby.
Alternative feeding techniques
Sometimes, a stuffy nose can be accompanied by a sore throat or ear pain which can make your baby refuse the breast. If this happens, you can try some alternative methods to feed your breast milk to your baby. Some creative ideas include:
- Breast milk popsicles (frozen breast milk)
- Feeding breast milk in a spoon or cup
- Incorporating breast milk in baby’s solid foods (for babies 6 months and older)
- Making yogurt from breast milk
Can breast milk unblock my baby’s nose?
Some naturopathic pediatricians suggest that breast milk works like saline drops on a stuffy nose. According to these experts, breast milk is a buffered solution that is similar to saline. It can loosen the thickened mucus without hurting your baby’s nose.
In addition, breast milk is a direct source of antibodies that can help combat viruses. These antiviral factors include Vitamin A, monolaurin and lactoferrin, which have shown to combat rhinoviruses in some studies. This means that the solution you are using to wash the mucus can directly have antiviral ingredients.
Some mothers have long been using this technique to relieve their baby’s nasal congestion. Apart from being totally natural, the best thing with breast milk is it’s free. It is readily available and easy to use.
To use breast milk drops for a stuffy nose:
- Express some breast milk in a clean container.
- Position baby on your lap with his face up and slightly tilted away from you.
- Use a clean dropper or syringe (without the needle) to add a few drops of breast milk in each nostril.
- Alternately, you can directly squirt some breast milk up to your baby’s nose (needs a little practice to be done correctly).
This will stimulate your baby to sneeze or cough which would help clear the congestion. But if not, you can use a bulb syringe to remove the loosened mucus.
Providing comfort while baby has a stuffy nose
Your baby will definitely not feel well due to a stuffy nose. So while you continue to breastfeed, here are some other things that can help make your baby more comfortable during this time.
An old-school technique that works wonders on a stuffy nose is letting your baby breathe the steam from a pot of hot water. Be extra careful on this one though, as your baby might accidentally reach the pot and get a scald. You can do this while your baby is sleeping to minimize accidents. Make sure to place the pot on a sturdy table or on the floor. Then hold your baby in one arm while your other hand gently directs the steam towards him.
If you have a humidifier at home, you can run it in your baby’s room while he is sleeping. The best choice is to use a cool mist for a baby’s room. This will help loosen the mucus and make breathing more comfortable while he sleeps.
Your pediatrician may recommend saline drops to loosen your baby’s nasal congestion. Add one to two drops of saline to each nostril or as directed by your doctor. Wait for one to two minutes. You can use saline drops to loosen thick mucus before using the bulb syringe.
Your touch can definitely soothe your baby’s discomfort. Using your finger pads, begin with some gentle strokes over our baby’s eyebrows, hairline, cheekbones, and bridge of the nose.
The good thing about feeding on the breast is that it can also calm a baby who is not feeling well. Most breastfed babies continue suckling on their mother’s breast even after they are full. Be patient and allow your baby to do non-nutritive sucking to help with his discomfort when he has a stuffy nose.
A warm bath
A warm bath can be a good way to soothe your baby and relieve congestion. Bring in some bath toys to distract your baby away from his discomfort.
Cleaning your home
Keeping your home clean can prevent the transmission of viruses and allergens that can cause or aggravate the stuffy nose of your baby. Regularly clean your home from dust, disinfect the surroundings, and use a vacuum cleaner to remove any animal dander that could be left in your household. This will also help your baby recover faster.
Use hypoallergenic products for your baby
For newborns and babies who are extra sensitive, it is better to use hypoallergenic products, especially those that come in contact with their skin like pillows, blankets, towels and toiletries. Keep away any stuffed toys in the meantime.
Improving the air quality inside your home
Regularly clean or replace your air filters. Avoid using scented air fresheners, candles and strong perfumes near your baby. Most importantly, never smoke cigarettes inside your home or near your baby. Cigarette smoke will not only trigger a stuffy nose, but it can also lead to serious health problems later on. This article looks closer at the negative links between breastfeeding and smoking.
Relief measures that are not recommended when your baby has a stuffy nose
While there are plenty of relief measures to try at home, there are also some that you should avoid. Here are some examples:
OTC colds and cough medications
Giving these over-the-counter (OTC) medications for children younger than two years of age is not advised by the US Food and Drug Administration. There are some studies suggesting that the result of using over-the-counter colds and cough medication for the relief of congestion is not significantly different from not using them for those children under six years of age. Only use medications as advised by your pediatrician.
Products containing camphor, peppermint oil or menthol
The direct application of these products on your baby’s nose, face, or chest is not recommended for babies and young children due to some documented cases that they may cause severe problems in breathing and liver toxicity.
Propping pillows under your baby’s head while sleeping
Placing extra pillows to elevate your baby’s head is not recommended because it increases the risk of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
When to call a doctor
A stuffy nose usually goes away on its own. But if you feel that things are not getting better, there is nothing wrong with asking for help from your pediatrician. Here are some things to watch out for and the indicators that your baby needs to see his doctor:
- Your baby breathes faster while at rest. (The normal rate for babies is 40 to 60 breaths in one minute).
- You hear strange breathing sounds like grunting, moaning, or whistling sounds.
- Your baby’s nostrils are flaring.
- His chest is pulling in the ribs or retracting upon breathing in.
- Your baby’s lips or nails become blue in color.
- Your baby doesn’t have enough wet diapers.
- Your baby is vomiting.
- Your baby develops a fever. (temperature greater than 38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 F)
A stuffy nose can make breastfeeding more challenging, but it can help soothe your baby until the congestion goes away. More than providing nutrition and antibodies to help him heal, breastfeeding allows you to be there physically and comfort your baby during this stressful time. Be patient and continue to breastfeed your baby in times of sickness. Never hesitate to seek professional help if symptoms get worse or you need some help in feeding your baby.