Like most brand new parents, the first night my daughter was home with us in our room, I panicked every twenty minutes that she had a cold or a more serious illness, in part because I could hear every sniffling noise she made. What I didn't realize, and what most people don't realize until they're veteran parents is that newborns often sound stuffy when there's absolutely nothing wrong with them. And that's why it's tricky to pick up on these signs that your baby's nose is stuffy so you'll know when to give them a little help.
If you see mucus running out of your baby's nose or if your baby is struggling to eat, those are obvious signs that your baby's nose is stuffy and you might need to break out the saline drops or nasal aspirator. However, it's important to know that newborn babies can sound stuffy without being sick or uncomfortable. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr. Michael J. Bennett, who is a pediatrician and clinical professor at The George Washington School of Medicine, explained that newborns are “obligate nose breathers," meaning that tiny babies aren't able to breathe through their mouths during the first six months of life. Their nasal passages are so tiny that any little bit of mucus will make it sound like they're struggling to breathe. Additionally, as Dr. Bennett explained, they aren't yet able to snort or sniff, which means they aren't able to clear their nose as quickly as adults or even older children.
If your baby does appear to have a stuffy nose, use saline drops or spray, or a nasal aspirator to help relieve them. Parents suggested steaming up the bathroom and sitting in the room with the baby to help decongest her. And of course in extreme circumstances, you should enlist a doctor to do a proper assessment.
If you're a new parent and still figuring out your baby, here are the signs that show that your baby is congested and could use a little relief.
1. You See Snot
One sign that your baby actually has a cold, rather than a normal amount of mucus built up in his nose is that you see snot. Dr. Bennett explained, "If a newborn gets a cold, she will develop a runny nose just like older kids." That will give you the clue that your baby might have caught something and you might want to be on the look out for other symptoms.
2. Their Breathing Sounds Funny
While you might not notice that your baby necessarily has a stuffy nose, if mucus drips back into their throats that could be a sign that she's stuffed up, and will manifest itself audibly. BabyCentre reports that you might hear funny noises when your baby breathes if she's stuffed up: "If mucus descends into the back of your baby's throat (pharynx) it may cause her to gurgle. If your baby is struggling to breathe, you should contact your pediatrician to have your baby checked.
3. They Don't Want To Eat
Babies rely on their noses to breathe while they're feeding, either by breastfeeding or bottle. When they're stuffed up, they might not be able to breathe and eat at the same time. BellyBelly suggests feeding your baby upright to ease some of their congestion, and to offer shorter, more frequent feeds if your baby doesn't want to feed for very long. And if clearing their nasal passageways with a nasal aspirator doesn't work, call your pediatrician because you want to make sure that your baby is getting the nutrients they need.
4. They Sleep With Their Mouth Open
Babies breathe through their noses, so if you notice your little one breathing with his mouth, it could be because he's all stuffed up. About Kids Health reassures parents that this congestion usually clears within a week, but you can take steps to prevent or alleviate their congestion, like setting up a cool-mist humidifier in their room which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to help clear stuffy noses.
5. They Sneeze
Sneezing is one of the only ways your baby can clear mucus from his nose, since he's not able to snort or sniff yet and obviously won't be able to find himself a tissue! Baby and Company tells us that it's usually normal for babies to sneeze, because it's "the body’s self-cleaning function to keep a baby’s nose clear to eat." But if your baby is stuffed up, that reflex might increase temporarily and you might physically see the cause: boogers.
6. They Cry
That sounds like a trick sign, doesn't it? Your baby could be crying for any number of reasons, but according to Livestrong, "During early infancy, before the soft palate and epiglottis move apart, nasal obstruction makes your baby cry." Absent any of the other typical reasons for your baby to be crying, it could be that she's just stuffed up.
7. They Cough
Another sign that your baby has a stuffy nose or is congested is that they develop an occasional cough. Babies spend so much time on their backs that mucus can drip down into their throats and cause them to cough. Care.com suggests using nasal saline drops and a nasal aspirator before bed to help reduce mucus that can settle.
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