Newborn Congestion: Just The Sniffles Or Something More Serious?

Newborn congestion is very common. In fact, most very young babies sound as if they have a stuffy nose, but is it something to worry about? When should you call the doctor? Before you panic, here are a few things to consider when encountering a baby stuffy nose.

What is a normal infant breathing pattern?

The idea of “normal” infant breathing in newborns needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For the first few months, newborns alternate between not breathing at all for a second — yikes — to taking shallow breaths. This pattern is totally normal. If you see rapid breathing (more than about 70 breaths per minute), this is more concerning. If your baby looks like she’s fighting for air, take her to the doctor immediately.

Is it usual for newborns to sound congested?

Newborns often sound a little snuffly. The cause of newborn congestion is mostly that they were floating in liquid for nine months in the womb, and some of that liquid is still draining from their nasal passages. Dry air, smoke, or perfume can cause newborns to have stuffy noses as well, so try to humidify the air and keep it irritant-free if your baby starts to sniff.

What’s not-so-normal congestion?

Lots of newborn congestion is normal. That said, there are times when a baby’s congestion requires more attention. Here’s when to be concerned:

• There is a fever in addition to the congestion

• Your baby is having trouble breathing or nursing

• He is coughing

• She seems excessively irritable or sleepy

• Your baby is making loud breathing noises during sleep

This is definitely a case when common sense and mom instinct work together: If your child has one or more of these symptoms and you’re worried, call a doctor. A (possibly) unnecessary medical visit is better than an untreated baby, right?

How should I treat my baby’s symptoms?

If your baby’s congestion isn’t serious, you can treat your baby’s stuffy nose using the classic “big blue nose-sucker” method: Drip 1-2 drops of saline into your baby’s nose to thin out the mucus, and use the bulb syringe to help get rid of any excess. Obviously, if your baby has a cough, never give him medicine without talking to your doctor first.

Bottom line, newborn congestion isn’t always as scary as it seems. Keep an eye out for baby’s other symptoms, especially her attitude and behavior. For the most part, congestion is just one of the scary (and wonderful) aspects of caring for this brand-new person.

Take a look at the most common questions about newborn baby that pediatricians hear all the time, with answers.