Babies produce a massive amount of snot and mucus — so much that, at times, it feels like a genuine achievement. It kind of is. Snot is essentially a filtration system that helps flush harmful bacteria and viral infections from the body. So all that nose drooling is keeping them healthy. That’s nice, but it doesn’t make it any less gross or making sure that it doesn’t get on the couch or strangers or the dog any less gross. Doing that safely is, as it turns out, a bit tricky. There are harmful side effects even to wiping a baby’s nose too often, which can cause extreme skin irritation under the nose. Throw in some more advanced baby-care tools — squeezable bulbs, elaborate booger straws like Fridas — and parents could easily become overzealous when removing snot and mucus.
The key thing to remember is moderation in all things, even snot.
Suction devices can be a godsend, but should be used at most a few times a day, with saline drops helping to loosen up mucus. If the child is showing signs of irritation, they should be abandoned to avoid damaging the nasal passages. “You don’t want to over-suction: It actually tells the body to create more snot,” says Sarah Stampflee, assistant nurse manager at the Randall Children’s Hospital NICU in Portland, Oregon. “The reason we have snot is to excrete the virus or bacteria, so the more you suck the boogers, the more they’ll actually produce.”
This is compounded by the fact that even the gentlest suction device can transform a changing table into what looks like a medieval torture device, with a flailing, screaming baby pinned down by a parent just trying to give them relief. This can be physically and psychologically harmful.
“I wouldn’t recommend holding them down because it isn’t pleasant and they can get some mixed messages that may create anxiety when they see (the apparatus),” Stampflee says.”If they’re able to clear the snot themselves, you don’t need to suction them out to clear the snot.”
Lucky for parents, babies have secreted snot like upright banana slugs since babies existed, and tried-and-true methods have existed for generations.
Simply wiping the nose with a wet cloth works wonders, especially when it’s paired up with a little petroleum ointment to help ease skin irritation. Parents can make a game of blowing noses, too, teaching a child as young as 1 to do it themselves by associating the act with songs or silly noises. The discomfort that comes with thicker snot and mucus can also be alleviated with a nice warm bath, and parents are also encouraged to use a humidifier in their children’s room to help promote thinner mucus. Keeping the child hydrated, too, helps promote less viscous mucus.
How to Handle Baby Mucus
- Try to get used to it. Even if you handle the issue with aplomb, the baby is still gonna be mucus-y a lot. It’s an unscratchable itch so just relax.
- Don’t suction the baby’s nose all the time. Too much suction will just trigger snot production
- Don’t seem nervous about it. You’ll make the kid anxious for no reason.
- Keep an eye on consistency. Thick mucus can impede breathing and sometimes be a sign of illness.
- Keep an eye on color. Clear mucus is gross, but fine. Green or yellow mucus is likely the sign of a problem. Purple mucus is a sign of the apocalypse.
Once the mucus becomes thicker, making it more difficult to sleep comfortably, that’s when parents should start reaching for their apparati. Relatively clear mucus isn’t much of a cause for concern. But if they’re still snot factories after 10-14 days, it’s likely a sign of a bigger problem, especially when paired with fever. And while it’s largely been debunked that the color of snot and boogers can indicate exactly what’s wrong with a baby, extreme — and extremely gross — colors are an indication of some sort of infection, and medical attention should be sought, particularly if the baby is gagging, vomiting, choking, or not sleeping.
If the mucus is clear and runny, however, parents shouldn’t’ be too concerned, or too over-eager to constantly slurp snot out of their nose.
“If snot is clear or slightly cloudy and baby is able to breathe comfortably, there’s no concern,” says Stampflee. ” IIf baby starts having a really hard time clearing their airway, or they’re gagging and the snot changes to Day-Glo orange, or if they look a little pale or blue, you want to seek medical attention immediately.”
Otherwise, it turns out that the safest way to remove clear, runny snot from a baby is to let nature and gravity do the worse, simply wiping it here and there so it doesn’t transform the kid’s face into a gross version of an exfoliating mask.
“You kind of just need to wait it out. Just expect snot pretty much from October to April. You’re gonna have snot on you, snot on your kid. Just deal with it,” says Stampflee.