My nursing training a few years ago made me realize how babies can turn women into anxiety-laden mothers. A nursery is a busy place not just for crying newborns, but also for nervous moms with dozens of questions. Some moms barely even sleep, just to listen to their baby breathing. We would have parents bring their kids to us nurses asking why their baby sounds congested. Of course, it is kind of worrisome. But the good news is, most of the time, it is pretty normal.
For the first couple of months, newborn infants may exhibit noisy and irregular breathing patterns. It is because they are breathing solely through their nose. Every time they inhale or exhale, they may develop grunting or whistling sounds. Nasal congestion also happens when something is blocking their nose. Congestion and breathing problems are normal in babies unless he seems to be struggling with much difficulty. Some babies may even experience a slight pause in breathing called apnea. As they grow older, their body process also matures, and they will eventually outgrow these anxiety-inducing habits.
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Common reasons for baby’s congested breathing sound
Every little breath that the baby takes and every little gesture means so much to the doting parents. So, when something seems off, it is enough to give them a mini heart attack. It doesn’t matter if they are first-time parents or seasoned ones. There are still times in their lives when their babies will have them scratching at their wits ends.
I am a nurse by profession myself. But honestly, I have not developed the immunity to anxiety in child care, especially with my newborn nephews and nieces. Not everything that babies do is written in the books. Indeed, motherhood is knowledge gained mostly through practical experience. We can only tell you what the best thing to do is. But most of the time, moms know much better.
If you notice that your newborn seems congested, don’t freak out just yet. Here are some possible reasons why he does.
Newborn periodic breathing
According to Healthline, babies breathe through their noses exclusively until they are about four months old. That’s because they have not yet developed the reflex to breathe through their mouth. They may even have trouble with feeding in their early lives with their immature suck and swallow reflex.
Their breathing pattern, which may sometimes sound congested, is perfectly normal. It is also a common situation with premature babies. But it is a good indication that your baby is healthy and developing well. Eventually, he will outgrow this stage. In some cases, babies may experience a pause in breathing or sleep apnea. Head over to this post if you noticed this behavior in your newborn infant.
Since the baby breathes entirely through their nose, minute air particles will likely pool up inside it. When fluid from spit-up accumulates in his airways, he may also develop congestion. Often, it is the baby’s body reflex to clear out the obstruction through sneezing.
Sneezing should not also cause concern for parents. It is another indication that your little one’s body is working in full gear to eliminate gunk inside his airways. But if your baby is sneezing more frequently than usual, he could be having an allergic reaction. Sometimes it is an allergy due to pet dander or even to his formula milk.
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition where the baby’s stomach contents backflows into his mouth. It can occur from two months old and may resolve on its own after 18 months of age. It happens because your baby’s stomach is too small to hold too much food at a time. Aside from spit-ups, wheezing and gurgling sound during sleep is also common.
Reflux is also not a cause of concern unless your infant develops a slow weight gain. When it extends beyond his 18-month age, you may need to visit a doctor. There is a possibility that he has a digestive blockage or GERD. Otherwise, the spit-ups and congestion should not cause you any problems.
You can alleviate the symptoms of reflux through simple steps in this guide.
Your baby has a cold
Babies are prone to colds and sniffles that they can catch any time of the year. But when they do, other symptoms like fever or runny nose are also present. Nasal congestion is the first sign that your baby will manifest if he is running a cold.
Colds are rare in newborns, though. It is because of the immunity that they have acquired from their moms. When that immunity withers off by 6 months, colds can get more frequent. But, if your baby is under three months old and shows colds symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor. You want to be sure he is treated earlier to prevent any serious complications.
Some babies are born with weak cartilage in their airways that affects their exhalation. It is difficult to diagnose bronchomalacia as this is often mistaken as other respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. If your doctor suspects it, he may order some tests like an x-ray or bronchoscopy. Babies with this condition may sound congested and exhibit a wheezing, high-pitched sound. Laying him down will make the sound more noticeable. Scary, right?
But mild bronchomalacia is also common and may resolve on its own after a couple of months. As he grows older, the cartilage also matures and strengthens up. Only when the case is severe that it will warrant surgical intervention. But your child may endure bronchomalacia normally until 24 months of age.
How to help your baby with congestion
Nasal congestion in babies is noticeable since they are breathing solely through their noses. Most often, the causes are normal and will resolve as your baby grows older. But I know how every labored breath that your newborn makes is also a pain in your chest. I know how you so badly want to help your little one ease through it.
Here are some ways that can help you manage your baby’s congestions.
- Keep your nursery dander and dust-free.
- Run a cool-mist humidifier.
- Use a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe if your baby sounds congested, but not sneezing.
- Position and burp him properly to alleviate reflux.
- Use saline spray if your baby has colds (ask your doctor’s recommendation first).
- Give your baby a warm bath and face massage.
- Change your baby’s formula milk.
Here is another thing whether your baby sounds congested or not: Never smoke or let anyone smoke in a room with your child. Aside from inhaling toxic chemicals, babies exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk of SIDS. It pays to keep your baby healthy by starting with good home air quality.
When should you take the baby’s congested sound to be something more serious? Call your doctor if you notice these symptoms in your child:
- The baby is struggling to breathe and with flaring nostrils
- He is turning blue to the skin, lips, and toes
- He is grunting after every breath
- The baby is excessively sleepy
- When the baby is feeding poorly and has a slow weight gain
- Newborn babies under three months of age having cold symptoms (fever, runny nose, lethargy)
How do I clean my baby’s nostrils?
You can use a rubber bulb syringe to suction inside your baby’s nose. Nasal aspirators are also popular and easier to use. But do not use these devices more than two times a day.
Do coughs and sneezes mean my baby is sick?
Sneezes and coughs are mostly just immature reflexes that will decrease in frequency over time. A decrease in appetite, fever, fussiness, or lethargy are the obvious signs of sickness in children.
Can I use vapor rub to alleviate my baby’s stuffy nose during colds?
There are limited researches to prove the efficacy of vapor rubs in treating congestion in infants. But brands like Vicks state in their labels that their product is not for children under two years of age.
How will I know if my formula milk is causing an allergy?
If your baby has milk allergies, he will mostly experience diarrhea, vomiting, hives, or watery eyes. Wheezing, coughing, and congestion are also common. Check with your doctor if your baby is experiencing this and switch to other types. Learn how to pick the best baby formula to prevent these instances from happening.
If babies sleep noisily, moms would worry. If they sleep quietly, moms would also worry. But I tell you what, you are not alone with your anxious thoughts. Many new mothers are reaching their arms to reach their baby’s tummy from time to time. Some may even sleep through it this way. Nothing is more relieving than the rising and falling rhythm of your baby’s chest to remind you everything is alright.
Congested and noisy breathing habits are fairly common among babies. It can be genetic or environmental factors. But most of the signs will clear away as they grow older. If you have any questions about your baby’s normal breathing sound, do not hesitate to ask your doctor.
Do you have a similar experience while your baby is growing up? Share your story in the space below, and let us know how you get through it all. We would love to listen to how moms manage their paranoia raising their tiny little lovelies.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.