Nasal congestion or nasal stuffiness in a newborn can be stressful for new parents. Congestion can cause newborns to be fussier and cry more than usual. While nasal stuffiness usually does not pose a large problem, if it is severe enough, it can cause secondary medical problems that require attention by health care professionals.
Newborns only breathe through their nose for their first few months of life, according to MedlinePlus, a medical information resource established by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When a newborn has a stuffy nose, it is difficult for the baby to nurse or suck a bottle. Because newborn babies are too young to know how to breathe through their mouths, nasal congestion can lead to fussiness when babies become agitated because of inability to eat, breathe and sleep peacefully.
Newborns can develop a stuffy nose for several reasons. After birth, mucous can remain in the nasal passages. Dry air or irritating substances in the air such as allergens or cigarette smoke can also cause nasal stuffiness. Colds can also cause stuffy noses and occur easily in newborns because of their lack of an immune system.
Newborns with a stuffy nose can display signs of eating difficulty, such as pulling off the breast and crying frequently. The baby might seem more irritable than usual and parents are able to hear the congestion as the baby breathes if the nasal passages aren’t completely occluded.
When a stuffy nose occurs because of excess mucous, using a bulb syringe to suction out the mucous will clear the nasal passages for easier breathing. Most hospitals send newborns home with a bulb syringe, and they can also be purchased in drugstores. Kellymom.com recommends keeping newborns as upright as possible to nurse, bottle-feed and to sleep. Saline drops can also be used in the nose to help clear mucous. If dry air is the culprit, a cool-mist humidifier will moisten the air. Humidifying the air in the nursery or baby’s sleeping area is especially helpful.
Severe congestion can become a problem if it prevents the newborn from feeding adequately. Dehydration can occur quickly in newborns so parents should seek medical assistance if the baby will not feed. If the baby displays any signs of difficulty breathing such as fast breathing, abnormal chest movements or blue lips, a doctor or other emergency personnel should be notified immediately.