Chest and Nasal Congestion in Newborns and Babies

Chest and nasal congestion are common symptoms of the common cold and other respiratory infections. However, because your baby can’t simply blow their own nose, you’ll have to take steps to help relieve your little one’s congested nose and chest. Find out how you can help treat your baby’s congestion at home and when you may need to see their healthcare provider. Why Your Baby’s Nose and Chest Are Congested

Nasal congestion happens when the nose and surrounding tissues, including the blood vessels, become swollen with excess mucus. This, in turn, results in what’s commonly called a stuffy nose, often described as a "plugged” feeling. Sometimes, nasal congestion also includes discharge, more commonly called a runny nose. Congestion that affects the nose and throat is typically caused by an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold. Similarly, chest congestion happens when the airways of the lungs swell and then fill with mucus, which can make breathing difficult. It often leads to a wet-sounding or productive cough. Congestion that affects the chest is caused by a lower respiratory tract infection. It’s very common for babies to develop upper respiratory infections, such as colds, or lower respiratory tract infections, sometimes even in their first few months. These infections can easily spread through respiratory droplets in the air or by contact with contaminated surfaces or family members who are ill. Since congestion is only a symptom of an underlying illness, your child must first get over the infection causing the illness for the congestion to completely clear. In most cases, you can treat a cold at home with simple remedies to help alleviate symptoms like congestion and make your baby feel more comfortable. If it’s more than a cold, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medication to treat the underlying infection, which in turn can help relieve the congestion.

In Summary

Nasal and/or chest congestion is a common cold or respiratory infection symptom. Newborns and babies are susceptible to catching colds, especially if they’ve come in contact with an infected person. Although the common cold can often be treated at home, in some cases, the congestion may be caused by an underlying infection requiring a prescription medication to treat. Your child’s healthcare provider can make a diagnosis and recommend the appropriate form of treatment.

How to Tell If Your Baby Is Congested

Your baby can't tell you they're congested, of course, but you may notice that they are making more noise than usual when they breathe or having more trouble taking liquids. Sometimes you can see that your little one has a stuffy nose and may even have mucus dripping from their nose as well, which is another sign of congestion. When your baby is experiencing congestion, they have likely developed an upper or lower respiratory tract infection. Here are additional symptoms of respiratory infections to look out for:

  • Nasal discharge that may be clear at first but then thickens and turns yellow or green

  • Difficulty nursing or taking a bottle

  • Wet or productive cough

  • Sneezing

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Slightly elevated temperature (a high fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is rare, but if that’s the case, contact your baby’s healthcare provider).

Newborns and babies younger than 3 or 4 months have a tough time with congestion, which can cause discomfort in many ways. A baby can't blow their nose, so the mucus in the nasal passage has no way of coming out without help from an adult. Not only that: a young infant isn't able to breathe well through their mouth, so any congestion can interrupt sleep, causing them to wake up. It can also make feeding more difficult, as the baby must stop sucking to take a breath now and then.

In Summary

Your baby may be congested if their symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, an irritated throat, or a cough. The congestion may also cause some discomfort since babies can’t blow their nose or breathe well through their mouth, which can affect sleep and feeding.


The Difference Between a Dry and Wet Cough

If your baby’s cough sounds wet, it’s most likely due to chest congestion. The cough will often last longer than a runny nose if your baby has that symptom as well. It’s best to consult your baby’s healthcare provider if your little one has a cough, especially if younger than 2 months old. If the cough sounds dry or irritated, your baby most likely won’t have chest congestion. Dry coughs are often characteristic of conditions like croup or whooping cough, both of which can have a barking sound. If your baby has a dry cough with a barking sound, or if your baby makes a wheezing sound when breathing, contact their healthcare provider, who may prescribe medication to treat the underlying cause. Be aware that experts do not recommend over-the-counter cough medicine for children younger than 6 years old as it may cause serious side effects such as slowed breathing.

In Summary

Your baby may have a congested chest if the cough has a “wet” sound. If your baby has a dry cough, it’s best to see the healthcare provider, as a cough may indicate a more serious infection. Your baby’s provider is the best person to make a diagnosis and also provide you with treatment advice. Avoid giving your baby over-the-counter cough medicine.

Immediate Relief for Your Baby’s Nasal Congestion

If it appears that your infant has nasal congestion and it is bothering them, you can follow this two-step process to help clear their nose. Do this every few hours, and ideally 15 to 20 minutes before feeding or bedtime:

  1. Use saline (salt water) drops or spray. Two drops or sprays per nostril are enough. Avoid nose drops or sprays that have any additional medication.

  2. Use a bulb syringe to clear out any mucus. Clear your baby’s nose immediately after using the saline drops or spray. To use a bulb syringe, squeeze the bulb part first before gently inserting the syringe into your baby’s nostril. Then slowly release the bulb in order to suction out the mucus.

Before using the nose dropper, spray, or bulb syringe, make sure that the item has been thoroughly washed with soap and water, then rinsed with clean water and allowed to dry completely.

In Summary

If your baby has nasal congestion, use a saline spray or saline drops to moisten each nostril, and then use a bulb syringe to gently suction out the mucus. Do this every few hours to help alleviate discomfort, especially 15 to 20 minutes before feeding and bedtime.

How to Help Relieve Your Baby’s Chest and Nasal Congestion

To help relieve both your baby’s nasal and chest congestion, try the following:

Use a cool-mist humidifier in your baby’s room. Set the machine close to your baby, making sure it is out of their reach. The additional moisture provided by the cool mist can help relieve the congestion by thinning the mucosal secretions and clearing your baby’s stuffy and/or runny nose at night. Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry the humidifier every day as recommended by the manufacturer so that you can prevent any bacterial or mold growth.

In Summary

To help relieve your baby’s nasal and chest congestion, use a cool-mist humidifier in her bedroom at night. Clean and dry the humidifier after each use.

When to See Your Baby’s Healthcare Provider

Contact your baby’s provider right away if you see any of the following symptoms, which may indicate a more serious illness:

  • A cough that’s painful, persistent, and/or accompanied by a whooping sound, vomiting, or turning blue, which means your child is having difficulty breathing

  • Loss of appetite (signaled by your baby refusing several feedings)

  • Fever —if your baby has a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Irritability

Being sleepier than usual, or if your baby is hard to wake up.

In Summary

If your baby has symptoms such as a cough that won’t go away, a loss of appetite, or a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or if they are irritable or sleepier than usual, contact their healthcare provider promptly. These symptoms could indicate a more serious infection.


There are a few things you can try to help your baby’s congestion:

  • For a congested nose, you can help your baby by using saline drops or a saline spray in each nostril, followed by clearing out any mucus using a bulb syringe
  • For a congested chest and nose, you can help by using a cool-mist humidifier in your baby’s room.

The Bottom Line

Your baby will experience congestion from time to time, as it’s a common symptom of a cold. Easy home remedies and treatments can help ease your baby’s congested nose or chest and help them feel more comfortable until the cold passes. Try clearing your baby’s nose with saline spray and using a cool-mist humidifier in their bedroom.

Congestion can make it difficult for your baby to feed or sleep. Ensure your little one's nasal passages are cleared using a saline spray or drops, followed by suctioning out the mucus with a bulb syringe before feeding and before bedtime.

If, in addition to congestion, your baby has other symptoms like a high fever, a persistent cough, sleepiness, or refusing to feed, contact their healthcare provider for advice and treatment.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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