When you have a runny or stuffy nose, you know exactly what to do, right? But young babies, especially infants, haven’t quite mastered the art of blowing their nose. When you suspect that your baby has a cold or a few boogies blocking their airflow and adding to congestion, what should you do?

With so many options on the market when it comes to cleaning your baby’s nose, it’s completely understandable if you’re a little overwhelmed with finding the right solution. The most common choices include a bulb syringe, nasal aspirator, and saline drops and sprays. So, let’s break down how and when to use each of these popular options.

Bulb syringe

You use this classic option by simply squeezing the air out of the bulb, and — while maintaining pressure on the bulb — gently placing the tip in your child’s nose. Slowly release the bulb to create suction to help remove any mucus.

Note that some types of nasal syringes come with removable tips in a range of sizes, allowing you to find one that’s a perfect fit for your baby’s nose.

If your child has a runny nose with very loose mucus, you most likely won’t need to use saline drops. But if your child has harder mucus (or boogies!), you may need to soften it by using one or two saline drops in the nostril before you use the bulb syringe.

Just remember that you need to clean the bulb syringe between uses. Otherwise, you run the risk of exposing your baby to bacteria every time you use the syringe. To do this, use warm soapy water, and squeeze and release it into the bulb syringe.

This nose cleaner is one of the easiest and most effective to use, which explains why it has been around for so long. Although, know that you shouldn’t use a bulb syringe every hour. Medical experts agree that you shouldn’t use it more than three to four times per day to prevent creating inflammation or nosebleeds from irritation.

If your baby hates this process and cries or fights it, you’re better off skipping this method, or at least waiting and trying another time. Mucus in the nose is not dangerous, and some babies just hate having their noses suctioned.

Nasal aspirator

Nasal aspirators have become quite popular in recent years, as many parents feel that they’re more efficient and easier to use than traditional bulb syringes. With this technique, you’ll be creating the suction power with your mouth instead of your hand, as is the case with a bulb syringe.

Typically, an aspirator comes with a mouthpiece and tubing that attach to a syringe-like tube with a narrowed open tip. Usually, these aspirators also come with disposable filters, so you don’t need to worry that you’ll somehow accidentally suction too hard and get mucus in your mouth.

With the mouthpiece in your mouth, simply place the tip of the angled tube against the opening of your baby’s nose. Note that you don’t place it inside, just against the nostril to create a seal. Create suction by sucking in air through the tube. But don’t suck too hard, as you could irritate their nose if you’re too forceful.

Just like with the bulb syringe, you can use a nasal aspirator with or without nasal drops (that will depend on the consistency of the mucus). Likewise, keep don’t use an aspirator more than three to four times per day. And be sure to clean your nasal aspirator between sessions to prevent the risk of reintroducing bacteria into your baby’s nose.

While first-time parents might be a little squeamish to use this method, once you get the hang of it, you’ll become a snot-sucking pro in no time.

Nasal spray

Whereas adults usually only use nasal spray when they have a dry nose, this tool is helpful if you find that you can’t easily clean your baby’s nose because the mucus is too thick or the boogies are too hard to remove.

While you can buy nasal sprays or drops that are marketed for babies, you can also make drops at home by combining 1 cup of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Note that nasal drops are gentler than nasal sprays and work similarly. It’s also important to remember you should never use medicated nasal sprays on your baby — only saline.

The goal of using a nasal spray is to loosen any mucus in your baby’s nose. Keep in mind that their nose is much smaller than an adult’s, so you don’t need to use a lot of saline for it to work.

Begin by laying your baby on their back. With a nose dropper, drop 3 to 4 drops into each nostril. Don’t be surprised if they sneeze! Wait a minute to give the drops time to work, and be sure to keep your baby’s head back during this time before you begin to suction their nose with either a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe. Sometimes drops are enough on their own to loosen and clear the mucus, especially if they sneeze.

Most people feel they can’t avoid the task of cleaning out their baby’s nose. However, other remedies can help minimize congestion or a runny nose.

Use a humidifier or steam treatment

Humidifiers are a great way to help break up mucus, specifically when you opt for the cool mist. You can leave it running all day, but especially while your baby is sleeping. And even if you don’t have a humidifier, you can run a hot shower to produce steam and sit in the bathroom with your child for a few minutes. You can do this several times a day.

Give them a bath

When your baby has a stuffy nose, a warm bath might be just what the doctor ordered. The warm water can help reduce nasal congestion.

Consider your home’s air quality

If you think poor home air quality could be the culprit of your baby’s stuffy nose, you may want to think about regularly using an air purifier or changing the filters in your heating and cooling system. If you happen to own a pet, such as a dog or cat, you’ll want to focus on vacuuming more often to reduce pet dander and dust in general.

Focus on hydration

Your goal when dealing with your baby’s stuffy nose is to keep the mucus thin so that you can easily clean it. Keeping your baby hydrated can help accomplish this goal. Regardless of whether your baby is exclusively breast- or bottle-fed, it may help to ensure that their nose is clean before feeding so that they can drink as much as possible.

Keep them upright

Similarly to adults, when your baby is laying down, they might become more congested. Aside from bedtime, try to keep your little one in an upright position as much as possible so that the mucus can naturally drain out of their nose. This can even include baby wearing during naptime to keep them upright.

But if you’re determined to keep your baby upright even during bedtime, you’ll need to sit up with them as opposed to raising your baby’s mattress. Raising the mattress — especially for infants — can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Try breast milk drops

Believe it or not, breastmilk can function as a great home remedy when your baby is congested. Use a dropper to insert a couple of drops directly into baby’s nose. Similarly to saline drops, breast milk can help break up mucus, and its antiviral properties may help treat the cold.

Oftentimes, the same factors that cause stuffy noses in older children and adults cause stuffy and runny noses in babies. The most common causes of congestion in babies include:

  • viruses like the common cold
  • poor air quality
  • dry air
  • small nasal passages

So when is a routine stuffy nose something more serious that requires seeing a doctor? If after a few days of trying home remedies your baby’s congestion isn’t improving, it’s time to see a doctor.

If your baby is showing severe signs that they’re struggling to breathe, such as wheezing, flared nostrils, pulling in at the ribs, or breathing too hard or fast to feed, take them to the nearest emergency room.

While runny and stuffy noses can be alarming for parents, they’re a part of life for everyone, including babies. Learning how to properly and safely clean your little one’s nose can make them more comfortable. Combined with some home remedies to reduce congestion, you’ll be able to make those moments when they’re under the weather much better for everyone.