How to Help an Infant with a Stuffy Nose Breathe Better

Infants breathe primarily through their nose, and when a stuffy nose hits your baby, you’ll probably find out quickly from the snuffling, snorting, fussing and crying that she resorts to in her attempts to breathe properly. A stuffy or congested nose typically comes from nasal passage inflammation and swelling, which results in most cases from an upper respiratory problem, such as a cold virus, sinus infection or allergies. A stopped-up nose becomes a problem when it hampers your baby’s breathing or appetite. Remedies that are often recommend involve moistening the nasal passages and removing excess nasal secretions.

Clean out your baby’s congested nostrils with saline solution. You can use infant saline solution from a pharmacy or create your own saltwater spray using a combination of 1/4 tsp. of salt and 1/2 cup of warm water, recommends Dr. Alison Schonwald, Harvard Medical School instructor of pediatrics and coauthor of “The Everything Baby’s First Year Book.” Tilt your baby’s head back and place two to three drops of the salt spray in each nostril. Keep his head tilted back for 60 to 90 seconds to allow the spray to soak deep into the clogged nostrils.

Remove the loosened chunks of nasal secretions. Sit your baby upright or lay her on her tummy to encourage the saline-loosened mucus to drain from the nostrils. Wipe the mucus with a tissue and discard the tissue in the trash. Speed up the drainage process by suctioning the mucous secretions from each nostril with a rubber bulb syringe, if desired; squeeze the bulb, insert the syringe tip into the nostril, then gently release the bulb to collect the mucus.

Carry your baby into a steamy bathroom and have him breathe the moisture-heavy air for 10 to 15 minutes, recommends Dr. Cara Familian Natterson, practicing pediatrician and author of “Your Newborn.” Be prepared to clean up the loosened mucus with a tissue, since the wet air generally produces a runny nose fairly quickly.

Roll a blanket, towel or item of clothing into a tube shape and insert it under the head of your baby’s mattress to tilt the mattress into a slightly elevated position. When you put your baby to bed, the raised mattress inclines her head slightly higher than the rest of her body, which enhances proper nasal drainage and keeps nasal congestion from worsening.


If you opt to remove mucus secretions with a rubber bulb syringe, try to use it only a few times each day. Using it more frequently sometimes worsens nasal congestion because it irritates the nasal passages.


Never use over-the-counter cold medications or decongestants to relieve an infant’s nasal congestion. The active ingredients in these medications can produce dangerous side effects in children under the age of 4.

Place the rolled up blanket or towel under the mattress, not directly under your baby's head. An infant should not have pillows -- or pillow-like items -- in her crib.