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Neti Pot for Babies: Is Nasal Irrigation Safe?

Yes, it’s safe for babies starting at about 9 months old and can help clear nasal mucus

Baby getting nasal irrigation

When your baby’s nose is crusty and full of mucus, it can be hard for them to breathe, eat and sleep. (Which means you’re probably not too well-rested either.) Wouldn’t it be nice to flush all that snot away?

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Nasal irrigation is a centuries-old practice of using a salt (saline) solution to rinse the nasal passages. It’s an effective at-home treatment for allergies and upper respiratory infections — and it’s even safe for babies.

“Young children can’t blow their noses,” says pediatrician Lisa Diard, MD. “Nasal irrigation can reduce mucus and open their nasal passages. It’s also been shown to reduce the need for over-the-counter and prescription medications, including antibiotics.”

Dr. Diard explains how to flush your baby’s nose and at what age you can start.

Getting started with nasal irrigation

It’s important to take special care when preparing for nasal irrigation. Young children’s immune systems are still developing, says Dr. Diard. To protect your baby’s health, make sure to carefully follow instructions for mixing the saline solution and flushing the nasal passages.

Saline solution for babies

The saline solution in nasal irrigation matches the natural saltiness of your baby’s body.

“Salt water is soothing to sinus tissues, compared with plain water, which can cause irritation and dryness,” explains Dr. Diard.

To make the saline solution for nasal irrigation:

  1. Clean your hands and equipment: Wash your hands with soap and water. Clean all containers and utensils with hot, soapy water and air dry them. Or run them through the dishwasher.
  2. Sterilize the water: The solution you put in your baby’s nose should be free of bacteria (sterile). Sterilize tap water by boiling it covered for 10 minutes. Let it cool. You can also purchase sterile water or distilled water at your local market or drugstore.
  3. Make the solution: Add 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and an optional teaspoon of baking soda per 2 cups of cooled sterile water. (Most salt in America is iodized. Non-iodized salt options include kosher salt.) The baking soda balances the solution, so it doesn’t cause irritation. You can also find packets containing premeasured ingredients.
  4. Refrigerate or discard extra solution: If you don’t use all the solution immediately, cover and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Discard any leftover solution from the nasal irrigation device. After 24 hours, throw out the water.

How to flush your baby’s nose

The sinuses are connected spaces. Nasal irrigation takes advantage of the link between the right and left nasal passages. You introduce fluid into one nostril and it drains out the other side — carrying mucus and debris with it.

There are many types of nasal irrigation devices. Make sure to get a device designed for babies. It’ll have an irrigation tip that fits into your baby’s nostril. The most common devices are:

  • Nasal irrigation syringe.
  • Neti pot.
  • Squirt bottle.

To flush your baby’s nose:

  1. Position your baby so they’re leaning forward over the sink or sitting up with a container under their chin.
  2. Tilt their head slightly to the right.
  3. Put the irrigation device in the left (top) nostril, positioning it toward the back of their head (not the top of their head). Place the tip just at the entrance to their nostril, being careful not to push it in too far.
  4. Gently push the saline solution into their nostril. The fluid should flow out of the right (lower) nostril.
  5. Wipe their nose and use a suction bulb to remove any remaining fluid.
  6. Switch sides.

Repeat up to three times per day.

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How young can you start nasal irrigation?

Nasal flushes are best for children who can sit up and lean forward. For most babies, that’s at about 9 months, says Dr. Diard.

Risks of nasal irrigation in babies

Nasal irrigation is safe for babies. The main risk is introducing harmful bacteria into your baby’s sinuses. Using clean equipment and sterile water reduces that risk.

Dr. Diard also recommends checking with your child’s healthcare provider before nasal irrigation if your child has:

Other ways to relieve nasal congestion

If your child isn’t quite ready for nasal irrigation, Dr. Diard recommends other strategies, such as:

  • Cool mist humidifier or steamy bathroom to help loosen mucus.
  • Saline nasal spray and a bulb suction device.

Many parents think young children won’t be able to tolerate nasal irrigation.

“Most children do very well,” reassures Dr. Diard. “Before trying nasal irrigation, I often suggest using saline nasal drops and a suction bulb. This can help a child get used to having fluid in their nose and make nasal irrigation easier.”

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