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FAQs – My Baby is Sick and Can’t Breathe!

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

my baby is sick and can't breathe

Top 5 frequently asked questions in Happy Baby USA.

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1. My baby is sick and can’t breathe! What can I do?

What can a I do when my baby is sick and can’t breathe?  Normally this will most frequently happen in babies that are less than 1-year-old because babies are obligate mouth breathers – babies have more difficulty in breathing through their mouths because it takes greater energy to breathe through the mouth vs. their nose.

  1. First and foremost, parents should not panic.  It is important take control of the environment because it will help calm down the crying baby and bring down the stress.
  2. Identify and make sure that the child can’t breathe because of the stuffed up nose (congestion).
    • (If your child have also been coughing and wheezing and is involved, the airways of the child may be compromised and it is best to go to the doctors or emergency room immediately.  If the weather is cold outside, quickly bundle up your child and contrary to belief, the cold air will bring down the inflammation and allow your child to breathe easier.  Cold mist from the humidifier will also help.)
    • (If your baby is bluish in color and unresponsive, immediately go to the emergency room or call 911!)
  3. Turn up the hot water and steam the bathroom.  The water vapors will help open up the airways of the nose, moisten and loosen the thick mucus which may be blocking the nose.  Also the sound of running water will help calm down the baby.  Carry your child into the bathroom and with a wet hand, gently “milk” your baby’s nose and you should be able to take out some mucus that is blocking from the nose. and repeat while your hand is wet.  (Using your hand instead of the tissue or even a wet tissue for that matter may be better because there is far less irritation to your baby’s skin.  There are also preservatives in the wet tissue which may contribute to allergic skin problems.)
    • (A nasal spray for babies can be used instead of using steam from the bathroom.  One word of caution is not to use the nasal spray/drops  when the child is in a “lying down” position.  Always use it in a sitting position or when the head is slightly in a upward position.  The reason is that sometimes too much nasal saline can get into the nostrils and flow down the airways.  It will increase stress to the child and may further block the nasal cavities.)
  4. After a good 5~10 minutes in the bathroom, if you have a nasal aspirator (preferably a human-powered suction).  Perform the suction in each nostril but do not use excess force because the blockage may be due to inflamed tissue.  Also excessive use my cause a nosebleed.
  5. Make sure to turn on a cold mist humidifier in the baby’s room.

Please read Babies and Infection – My Baby has a Cold and can’t Breathe! for more information.

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2.  Why can’t my baby breathe through his/her mouth?

During the first year, babies naturally breathe through their noses and not their mouths. They are called “obligate nose breathers” meaning that they depend on their nose to breathe instead of their mouth. The structures relating to the airways of the babies are still anatomically immature and it takes less energy and physically easier for babies to breathe through their nose instead of their mouths. As they grow out of their first year, they should be able to breathe easier through their mouth when their nose is congested.

Please read Babies and Breathing – Why do babies prefer to breathe through their nose? for more information

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3.  What type of nasal aspirator is the best and what do you recommend?

There are many nasal aspirators in the market.  However the best nasal aspirator is the one that is powered by human suction.  The bulb type and the battery powered one has weak suction.  It is only useful in “loose” mucus and many times the nose is stuffed up with “thick” mucus.  The nasal aspirator powered by human suction is the best because the suction is strong and moreover one can control the force of the suction.  There are quite a few human powered suction on the market (ie. BabyComfyNose, Nosefrida, Pigeon etc.).  But so far we find that the best nasal aspirator is made by BabyComfyNose – the unit is well made and is easy to clean.  There is no need to buy extra filters, and if one wishes to sterilize the unit, one can boil the entire unit in water.  The nose tip and mouthpiece are soft so that there is extra protection for you and your child.  (Disclosure:  Happy Baby USA is not affiliated with BabyComfyNose).

Please read The Best Nasal Aspirator for your Baby for more information.

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4.  Why does my child keep getting sick and how can I take steps to prevent it?

It is during the dry and cold seasons where your child gets sick the most.  There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. When the weather gets cold, more and more children stay indoors.  Daycare children gets sick much more often than those who are reared at home.  There are more opportunities to get into contact with other sick children.  Furthermore children when they play do not have the concept of germs and share it with one another through toys and direct physical contact.
    • (It is mainly the parents and teacher’s responsibility to keep sick children at home.  Daycare and preschools should try to sanitize toys when possible and practice hygiene like hand washing.
  2. There is less humidity in cold air, thus the microscopic cilia in the nose cannot function as efficiently and have trouble getting rid of the virus/bacteria or foreign particles from the nose.
    • (Get a cold mist humidifier and even better get a hygrometer too.  A hygrometer will measure the amount of humidity in the air and will tell you whether you need to humidify your room or not.  A room with too much humidity will even be worse than a dry room because it can cause mold to grow.  Get a humidifier that is easy to clean and use.  Humdifiers need to be cleaned often because they can harbor germs and mold.)
  3. It is less common for babies less than 4~6 months to catch a cold because they are “protected” by antibodies from their mother.  As these antibodies disappear, the baby has a week immune system and are particularly susceptible to bugs after 4~6 months.
    • (Wash your hands before handling your baby.  Be particularly careful not to expose your child in places where there are many people.)

Please read Babies and Infection – Why does my baby keep getting sick? for more information.

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5.  My baby breathes through his/her mouth.  Should I be concerned?

Yes you should be concerned.  Babies and adults for that matter should breathe through the nose.  When a child is not breathing through the nose, there may be a physical, anatomical or physiological blockage in the nose.  Babies and children should be breathing through their nose because of normal facial developmental consequences.  Babies for instance should be able to continue to breastfeed without taking their mouth off the nipple for air.  Older children may also have allergic rhinitis which can lead into secondary infections of the nose and thus lead into chronic rhinitis.  One should consult with a pediatrician or an ear, nose and throat doctor.

Please read Babies and Breathing – Children and Mouth-Breathing for more information.

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The internet is a great reference for health related issues however as there is good information there is also bad information.  All in all it is important to discuss and confirm any health related questions with your family doctor or pediatrician.

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