What can I do for my baby's congestion?

Many parents ask what over-the-counter products they can give their young children for nasal congestion and stuffiness.

In our opinion, most cough and cold preparations for children don't work very well. While many studies have established their safety, there's no evidence that they make a difference in most children. We advise you to save your money rather than buying these medications, which can become expensive.

Instead, we recommend a different approach: use suction to get the mucus out. Infants and toddlers can't blow their noses effectively, so you have to get it out another way.

Here's how to do it, step by step. You may need two people to do it well:

  1. First, clean as much loose mucus out of the nose and face as possible.
  2. Ha ve the child lie down on his or her back.
  3. Put about 1 cc warm nasal saline drops in each nostril. You can buy prepared nasal spray at a pharmacy, or you can make your own at home. Squirt the nose drops in with an eyedropper or splash them in with a soaked cotton ball.
  4. Let the saline soak up into the dried, hard mucus to soften it. Allow at least 30 seconds.
  5. Have the child sit up, so the loose mucus will fall to the front of the nose.
  6. Deflate the nasal bulb by squeezing it out.
  7. Insert the deflated bulb as far up one nostril as possible.
  8. Release the bulb so that it reinflates. This allows the mucus to be sucked into the bulb.
  9. Repeat with the other nostril.

It is very common for babies to cough, gag, gargle, choke, or even pause breathing when doing this. Don't worry; if you didn't do this, the baby would choke and gag on the mucus instead!

It's important to use drops in the nose before trying to suck out the mucus with the bulb. Thick, crusted, dry mucus will stick to the side of the nose like a scab, and suction won't work.