There’s nothing more pitiful and distressing than a congested baby.  A baby’s stuffiness will prevent her from nursing, taking a bottle and, perhaps worst of all for tired parents, sleeping!  Try these tips to ease your baby’s congestion and increase her comfort.

1.  Saline Drops:  Your new best friend.  Saline drops help loosen mucus and moisten and calm irritated nasal passages.  They are drug-free; essentially, they’re salt and water.  You can purchase saline drops at any drug store, and you can use them as often as you need to.  When my four-month old son was so congested he couldn’t breathe through his nose at all (read:  nursing one suck at a time so that he could breathe and no sleeping) we gave him saline drops at every diaper change.  I’d put the dropper into his nose and count to three quickly on each side in a funny voice.  He grew to enjoy the nose drops, and his congestion cleared up quickly.  After that, I swore by the stuff and I always keep a few extra bottles on hand.  Invest in some extras.  They’ll come in handy.  (Tip:  If your baby is lying down and the bottle is pointed toward the ground, don’t squeeze; gravity will cause the saline will drip out on its own, and squeezing will cause the saline to come out too quickly, making your baby uncomfortable.)

2.  Make it hot, hot, hot!  You’ve no doubt heard that a congested baby can benefit from time in a warm, steamy bathroom.  This is true.  The hot steam can loosen mucus and make it easier for it to drain out of baby’s nose.  Problem is, unless you like to sauna with a hot, wet newborn against your skin, this can be an unpleasant and sweaty experience.  Personally, I’ve always lost patience after about five minutes, either getting too uncomfortable or feeling too guilty about the amount of water I was wasting.  So, try this:  Make sure there is a comfortable place for you and your baby to sit—perhaps a squishy bathmat, vanity stool or, as a last option, the toilet.  Set the shower as hot as it will go, and close all doors and windows.  Turn off the fan.  Let the room steam up for a few minutes.  Come in, with your baby—if your baby is old enough to need distraction, bring toys!  Turn the shower off.  And sit for 15 minutes, or as long as you and your baby can both stand it.  For an extra bonus, give your baby saline drops right after her sauna.

3.  Or cool it down While sitting in a steamy hot room is beneficial, the opposite can be true, too.  Sometimes taking a baby out into cold air can ease stuffiness.  This is because when it’s cold, blood retreats toward the baby’s inner core, and away from the surface of her skin, thus reducing swelling and perhaps making it easier for baby to breathe.  It should go without saying that your baby needs to be properly dressed for the weather, and that babies should not be outside in cold weather for too long.  Use your common sense.

4.  Use the force.  I have mixed feelings about nose suckers, also known as nasal aspirators.  On the one hand, they can be really effective at clearing out snot.  On the other hand, my kids have always found them super traumatizing, and I’ve never been able to suck out their noses without some major crying.  They also can be difficult to keep clean.  (If you’re in the mood to be grossed out, check out this article on the Huffington Post, where one mother who religiously cleaned her baby’s aspirator describes her horror at discovering that the inside was covered with mold!)  The Nose Frida is another option, and I’ve found this much easier to keep clean than the traditional bulb aspirator.  But it still resulted in crying, maybe even more so because the sucking force tends to be stronger.  Whatever you choose, use the aspirator before you put in any saline drops, so you don’t suck the saline out before it can do its job.

5.  Use that humidifier.  I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get nervous about using a humidifier.  I can’t help thinking of those random stories we all hear about some humidifier having mold in it, and the baby developing Black Lung or some such horrible disease, and I decide they aren’t worth it.  The truth is that they are worth it, and as long as you clean them regularly, you have nothing to worry about.  Just make sure to take the humidifier completely apart, wash the whole thing with warm soapy water (you might rub it down with alcohol every week or so, and use a diluted vinegar solution once every few months) and let it dry completely before you put it back together.   Put the humidifier close to your baby’s crib and let it do its thing.  One tip:  this doesn’t often happen, but sometimes humidifiers leak.  If you’re like me, and prone to staying up all night worrying about this unlikely event, fold up a towel and put the humidifier on top of it.  Voila!  Leaky humidifier?  No problem! 

6.  Take a tip from a koala.  Eucalyptus oil has a fresh, minty smell that’s like Vic’s Vapo Rub without the medicinal overtone.  Although you shouldn’t put eucalyptus oil directly on your baby’s skin, you can make sure she gets the benefit of the oil’s aromas.  At night, you can put a few drops onto your baby’s pajamas, on her chest and around her shoulders, so she’s inhaling the scent all night.  If you’re nursing you can apply the oil to your breast above your nipple, so baby smells it, but does not swallow it.  You can also put a few drops into the water in your baby’s humidifier.  Please keep in mind that eucalyptus oil is poisonous if swallowed, so you need to take precautions to make sure your baby, pets and older children don’t drink it.