For the lucky few parents who have babies that will actually sleep, a cold with nasal congestion can wreak havoc on your baby's nighttime routine. It can absolutely hinder their ability to sleep well, but is it safe for babies to sleep with a stuffy nose? Their noses are so tiny and the snot bubbles seem so large. Just how does it all work?
"Babies, like adults, will end up breathing through their mouths if needed. Unless their lungs are involved, they will not stop breathing if their nose is stuffy," Dr. Stephanie Hemm with LifeBridge Health Pediatrics at Loch Raven tells Romper. "There are some ways to make them more comfortable though."
Getting a solid night's rest when you have a small child is the ultimate luxury, but if your baby has a stuffy nose and you're concerned about their ability to breathe as they sleep, you probably won't get a single wink. Luckily, pediatricians say that putting your baby to sleep with a stuffy nose may not be the most comfortable (or easy) thing in the world, but it is safe for most children.
"Unless your baby has a serious lung condition like bronchiolitis, they are not going to stop breathing while they sleep," American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Dr. David L. Hill tells Romper. "You may choose to elevate the head of the crib a little, but don’t put any sleep aids or objects in the crib itself — they could pose a suffocation risk."
But, how can parents be assured that their stuffy-nosed babe is OK to be put to sleep? "Take a look at your congested baby, awake or asleep. Ask yourself, 'If I took the nose out of the equation, would my baby still be working hard to breathe?' What I mean is, is the nose the problem or is the issue in the lungs? If you think it’s in the lungs, always call your pediatrician," Hemm tells Romper. "Nasal congestion often causes restless sleep since it’s so annoying to breathe through, and it can dry out the mouth. This should improve on its own in three to four days. If, however, your baby starts to get better and then worsens again, they should be seen by a doctor."
If your baby simply has a stuffy nose with no lung involvement, you should be able to safely put them to bed without any significant safety risks. (So no, you don't actually have to keep standing over their crib and watch them breathe all night long.) However, you can help them cope with the irritation of having a clogged nasal passage with some tried and true home remedies like sitting in a steamy bathroom, using a humidifier, or clearing the nose with nasal saline.
"If a baby has significant congestion before bedtimes or feeding times, parents can gently spray sterile nasal saline mist into both nares, and then use a nasal bulb syringe to carefully remove any mucous," pediatrician Dr. Whitney Casares tells Romper. "Parents should avoid clearing congestion more than a few times a day unless directed by their child’s pediatrician."
Most of the time, a common cold is to blame for a stuffy nose, but for babies who don't just have occasional nasal congestion, or if it's paired with other symptoms like a fever or pain, a trip to the pediatrician may be in order.
"There are many causes of nasal congestion, but if the problem is long-lasting or associated with a fever or other symptoms a consultation with a physician is a first step to rule out allergies, reflux or an upper respiratory infection," Daniel Lewin, associate director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National tells Romper. "Nasal congestion can also be caused by mouth breathing and can be associated with snoring. Both of these problems are signs of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and should be brought to the attention of your pediatric specialist."
Additionally, it's important to monitor your baby's feedings to make sure that their nasal congestion isn't interfering with their ability to eat, as this can also be a sign that your child's physician needs to get involved.
"Newborns have a hard time feeding well if they can’t breathe through their noses, so if you notice that your newborn is taking an unusually long time to feed or seems to be short of breath with feeds, seek care," Hill tells Romper. "Always call if your baby is wheezing, making a grunting sound with each breath, or if you notice the skin pulling between or under the ribs or over the breastbone."
When in doubt, a quick call to your pediatrician is never a bad idea. They are the best resource for your baby's health and safety.
David L. Hill, MD, American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson and author of Co-Parenting Through Separation and Divorce
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P. is the author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One
Dr. Stephanie Hemm, LifeBridge Health Pediatrics at Loch Raven
Daniel Lewin, Ph.D., associate director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National