When you're an adult and you get stuffed up, it's miserable. You get cranky and tired, and the level of irritation over your need to mouth breathe is palpable. For babies, it's even worse. They have no idea what's going on, why they're suddenly leaking from their faces, and why they can't breathe. Think you're cranky with a head cold? You have nothing on a baby. And when babies can't rest, no one in the house can either. That's why it's crucial to learn how to help your congested baby sleep, because otherwise you're all going to be miserable.
Pediatrician Amy Sniderman, MD from The Cleveland Clinic reported that clearing congestion from an infant or toddler isn't exactly the easiest of tasks, but it is necessary for their comfort. When babies are uncomfortable, their sleep is disjointed at best. They become irritable, they are harder to calm, and harder to put down for naps and bedtime when they have a nose — and often a face — full of mucus. The drainage is irritating to their little throats and all that wiping inflames the skin around their nostrils, so Sniderman suggested various manual methods, like bulb suction and the use of moisture to clear the passageways so that your baby can rest easier.
My son was OK when he was congested. I could hold him in the steam from a hot shower, and he'd go back to sleep. My daughter on the other hand turned into a tiny snot demon who screamed in a way that can only be described as "fully Satanic." It was a very specific shrill sound that now, at age 7, she reserves for only when her brother dismantles her Barbie house or turns off her music on Amazon Alexa. And she's still quite the angry child when she gets congested; it's fun for everyone. I remember feeling completely helpless when she was little, and it turns out there are a few simple things that could have helped her feel immensely better.
I contacted board-certified pediatrician Randi B. Nelson, MD, MBA, FAAP of Brightpoint Health in New York City, and she tells Romper that she usually advises parents to do a few easy things to clear up congestion, especially at night to help them sleep more soundly. The first thing Nelson suggests is to "use saline drops with a bulb suction to help facilitate the removal of mucus or watery discharge from nose." Babies can't blow their own noses, so using the drops with the bulb helps evacuate those little noses. Make sure the baby is sitting up or supported upright when you use the suction bulb. (I used to put my littles in the car seat to do this.)
The next suggestion Dr. Nelson has is a lot easier than squirting drops into a wiggly baby and sucking them out with a nasal aspirator. She suggests using a cool mist humidifier in the baby's room — obviously where they can't get to it. It will help loosen up the mucus in your child's nasal passages and help it run freely. Sure, you might end up with a baby who wakes up looking like they smeared green Elmer's glue on their face before going to bed, and the sheets are a nightmare, but hey! Everyone got some sleep.
Growing up with a ton of allergies and a nurse for a mom meant that I spent a disproportionate amount of time in a steamy bathroom, reading my Highlights magazine while my nose cleared. As a mom, I find myself doing the same things for my babies. These things seem truly simple, and they are, but they do help, and at this point, that's all you can really ask for.