Despite the fact that they are the default tool given to parents for stuffy noses, most babies hate the bulb syringe and using one can easily become a frustrating event.
So, what do you do if your baby hates the bulb syringe? Bulb syringes can work well if you loosen the mucus inside baby’s nose beforehand with saline solution and you keep your baby entertained or laughing while you use it. Meanwhile, there are also great alternatives to the bulb syringe that make things easier for both baby and parents.
Why is the bulb syringe so simple for parents to use but so uncomfortable for babies? How can you use some tricks to make the process more comfortable for the baby? Read on to learn more based on my personal experience!
Why do babies hate bulb syringes?
We’ve all been there. You just want to help your congested baby breathe easier by clearing his nose, but your baby screams when you try to suction his nasal passages with a bulb syringe. Is there any way to make this process better for everyone involved?
The bulb syringe has long been a staple parenting tool and is often given to new mothers by the hospital as part of a newborn kit. Clearing out your baby’s congested nose is very important to help the baby stay comfortable and be able to breathe and sleep easier. Untreated, congestion can lead to infection. But if clearing congestion is so important, why do babies hate getting their noses cleaned?
Babies hate the bulb syringe because the vacuum effect is uncomfortable and they hate having something jammed into their nose.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be a fan of that either!
To use a bulb syringe, you squeeze all of the air out of the bulb, insert it into your baby’s nose, and release the bulb. The release draws air and mucus out of the nasal passages and into the syringe. Babies have delicate, sensitive noses, and the sucking feeling is very uncomfortable.
Can a bulb syringe hurt your baby?
The primary dangers of a bulb syringe come from improper usage. If used too often, it can lead to swelling, irritation, and even bleeding!
Hygiene is also very important with bulb syringes. It is generally recommended that you should not use the same bulb syringe for multiple children. This recommendation is made because it can be difficult to get the bulb syringe completely clean, owing to the tiny opening of the design.
Between usages during the illness, you can clean the bulb syringe with cooled, boiled water and rubbing alcohol.
So how often should you suction your baby’s nose?
The bulb syringe is not a preventative tool, it should be used to respond to discomfort. Babies do not need their noses suctioned on a regular basis when they are not experiencing congestion.
Babies primarily breathe through their nose, so congestion sometimes sounds worse than it is. They also don’t yet understand that they can ‘blow their nose’ and get rid of the mucus. Since they are primarily mouth-breathers, when a baby is congested it is extremely uncomfortable because they may not yet be able to breathe through their mouth.
When the baby is struggling with congestion, suctioning should be limited to twice a day to avoid complications. It is also important to consult with your pediatrician when you have concerns about your child’s health.
Can you suction a baby’s nose while they are sleeping?
This is a tricky question.
On the one hand, you could easily startle your baby when trying to suction their nose while they are asleep. This will quickly lead to a crying, upset baby.
On the other hand, a sneaky parent might be able to suction their poor baby’s snot out of their nose without waking them up. If successful, your baby will likely be able to sleep (and stay asleep!) more easily and you won’t have to deal with a crying baby.
The choice and risk is yours to decide!
How to stop your baby from crying while using a bulb syringe
A bulb syringe can be a very effective way to get your baby some relief, but the trade-off is that it is an uncomfortable process. Here are some helpful tips to try to ease the discomfort.
Use nasal drops to loosen congestion before suctioning.
One simple way to make it easier and more comfortable to suction your baby’s nose is to loosen congestion with nasal drops before beginning.
In my personal experience, you should spray some of the saline into your baby’s nose and then distract them by talking to them or giving them a favorite toy. After the saline has worked for a bit, apply the saline once again and then get to work suctioning out the snot!
One of our favorite brands (and you’ll see it again before this article is over) is NoseFrida and they make an effective and surprisingly affordable saline spray that you can check out here.
You could also make your own saline nose drops at home.
Use a humidifier or steam to help soften mucus before suctioning.
A cool-mist humidifier is a simple tool to help relieve baby’s congestion and make suction easier. You can also turn your bathroom into a steam room by holding the baby in the closed bathroom while a hot shower runs, creating steam. The steam helps to relieve congestion, helping the baby breathe easier and making suction less uncomfortable.
If you want to invest in a humidifier for your baby then I personally recommend this one here. It has lasted us through two babies and also works great as some extra white noise in the room at night!
Distract your baby
When in doubt, distract the baby.
This is usually good advice no matter what you are trying to accomplish with your little one. It’s usually pretty easy to get your baby’s attention and you likely already know the best way to do this with your baby.
Asking for help from another parent or older sibling to distract the baby with a toy or silly faces can give you the opportunity to try to clear the baby’s nose before he realizes what is happening are all good choices.
Never suction after feeding
If you suction after feeding, the baby may vomit.
This outcome is pretty rare, but it does happen. Babies don’t quite understand what is happening and they do not have a great handle on their gag reflex yet. In fact, sometimes I think babies just like vomiting for fun!
If you use the bulb syringe to clear the baby’s mouth of mucus, it is important to angle the syringe towards their cheek. If you angle it towards the back of their throat, they could gag and vomit.
How to get snot out of baby’s nose without a bulb syringe
If the thought of using the bulb syringe one more time makes you consider the “ignore it and maybe it will go away” method, luckily there are some other choices for helping your baby breathe easier.
One amazing product is the Nose Frida. This has one end of a tube that goes into the entrance to your baby’s nostril, and one end that goes into your mouth. You then suck the congestion out of your baby’s nose.
Gross, right? Nope! The Nose Frida comes with filters to ensure that the mucus does not end up in your mouth.
The Nose Frida uses the same vacuum effect as the bulb syringe, but due to the placement of the tube and other factors, it is far more comfortable for the baby. It’s also surprisingly easy to use and also less yucky than you think!
If you check out this link here you can get the NoseFrida aspirator and saline solution combo pack!
Electric Nasal Aspirator
Why rely on basic physics or human lung power when batteries exist?
You can clean out your baby’s nose with a small, electronic suction device much more quickly. A battery-powered nasal aspirator makes the process much faster, allowing you to clean your baby’s nose and move on.
While I’ve never personally used one of these, some parents swear by them.
This option even plays music to distract your baby while you clean his nose and has excellent reviews from other parents.
While potentially a more preventative option, there are aromatherapy drops specifically formulated for a diffuser or your baby’s bath that can offer relief from congestion.
At the risk of sounding like a paid shill, these drops are also by Frida Baby (the folks that make the NoseFrida) but really, I have no guilt recommending any of their products because I’ve used them so much.
You can check out the drops here.
Vapor Clip On
This is my personal favorite because it is completely non-invasive and features a cute lion clip. The Vapor-Raz Clip-On Vaporizer utilizes eucalyptus and menthol vapors to soothe your baby’s congestion. It looks like a pacifier clip and you can simply clip it to their clothing, crib, or car seat.
It is a medication-free way to support a clear head for your baby and you can check it out here.