How to Clean Out Your Baby’s Nose Effectively

‘Tis the season for the sneezin’! With two little ones in the house now, and winter coming on, there is lots of snot mixing in with the drool and stool I’d gotten used to. A little cold can mean a fussy baby, just from the misery of having a stuffy nose, and from not being able to nurse or drink well.
Babies are obligate nose breathers, so luckily they choose to breathe rather than eat when they are really stuffy.

Unfortunately, the side effects from cold medicines, are worse for your baby than the cold!  They usually just dry up any water from the mucus, making your baby even more congested.

So how do you get rid of the snot?

An old school pediatrician once showed me the most effective, safest, and easiest way to clean out a baby’s nose using a suction bulb, and saline.  Sure you’ve tried it before, but not this way.  Since then I’ve shown hundreds of worried mothers how clean out their baby’s noses, and keep them out of the E.R.  Even old experienced pediatric nurses (with their own children and grandchildren) have been impressed at how well it actually works.

First you have to use the saline (0.65% Sodium Chloride or salt water).  Remember how your nose leaked after the last time you went swimming in the ocean?  The salt water dissolves the mucus.

Then I showed my wife, and apparently, it’s not as easy as I thought.   It was a bit tougher emotionally putting my own child through it, then demonstrating on someone else’s child, for their own good.  You may not get it right the first time, but it works.  And, it doesn’t take any force.  Though your baby will be annoyed having salt water and a plastic thing shoved in its nose, even if, it does help him breathe.

Here’s how to do it.  You’ll need:

  • A suction bulb (yes the one they gave you in the hospital, it’s probably with the diaper bag they gave you somewhere in the back of the baby’s closet).
  • Nasal Saline drops (Little Noses, Ayr, Ocean)
  • A paper towel (to put the snot on, eeewwwww!)
  • Tissue paper (to wipe any trailing snot off your baby’s face, double eeewwww!)
  • A large blanket or towel to swaddle your baby (I didn’t say s/he was going to enjoy it).

Basically, the key is tilting your baby’s head back down between your knees.  This way you are looking straight down the nostrils, and bracing his or her face to cut down on the wiggle factor.  Swaddling keeps them from pushing you out of the way.  It’s amazing how even the smallest baby can already protect themselves in some ways.  (Smaller babies will need their heads supported a bit, you can also cross your shins to support the head).

  1. Swaddle the baby.
  2. Tilt head back between your legs with their legs off to the side of you (so they can kick all they want).  This even works with bigger toddlers.  They are tougher, but by the time they get this big, hopefully you’re both used to it.
  3. Drop 2-3 drops in each nostril. (Don’t worry if you put in more, it wont hurt the baby any more than swimming in the ocean hurts us).
  4. Squeeze the bulb, then place it down in a nostril.  It will stop when a seal is created because the tip is tapered.  Let go and it should suck out all kinds of mucus.  If it doesn’t, try more drops.   (Because you will have a good seal, you don’t need to struggle with closing the other nostril as I’ve heard others suggest).
  5. Squeeze out the mucus onto the paper towel.  Wipe any trailers off your baby’s face with a kleenex…ahhh, parenthood.

    Baby Mucus

    Mucus effectively removed from baby's nose with just 2 drops saline and bulb.


Congratulations.  You no longer suck at sucking.

Yes, your baby will cry.  Sure, I’ve had them smiling and laughing as I swaddled them and played upside-down baby and tilted them in my lap.  That changes when you first drip some saline into their nose.  “What are you doing Dad?! I’ve already got stuff in my nose I don’t want”  their glares and screams tell me.   Of course, it’s all worth it, when you hear the difference in their breathing.

I should also mention, you may also feel bad if you see blood in the mucus.  The nose shouldn’t have blood flowing, but it’s normal for their to be a pink tinge in some of the mucus, like when you have some blood in your nose after blowing it.  Also, don’t expect them to be totally clear after doing this, anymore than you’d expect your own nose to be totally clear after blowing it.

The salt water will have loosened the mucus, you’ll be able to hear the difference.  They can breathe past the looser mucus easier or swallow it.  Remember, they can’t blow their nose or “hock a loogie“.

You’ll breathe easier knowing your baby is breathing easier.  And you may get more sleep!

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