Chest congestion in infants is nearly always caused by a viral or bacterial infection, with the cold virus being the most common cause. Chest congestion can interfere with breathing, sleeping and eating, and over-the-counter medications are not suitable for use in infants. Fortunately, minor chest congestion in an otherwise healthy infant is usually treatable at home.
Steam from a running shower can loosen chest congestion and enable easier breathing. Turn the shower on the hottest setting, close the bathroom door and allow the room to fill up with steam. After a few minutes, bring the infant into the bathroom and sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Running a cool-mist humidifier inside the infant's room while he is sleeping will also help to loosen chest congestion.
Gently tapping and rubbing an infant's back can break up mucus and encourage a congested infant to cough. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lying the infant face down across your knees and then using your cupped hand to gently tap and rub his back. Carefully support the neck of younger infants when performing physical therapy to loosen chest congestion.
Adequate fluid intake can help to thin mucus to relieve chest congestion. If the infant is breastfeeding, encourage him to eat as often as possible. Offer bottle-fed infants who are uninterested in formula some water or diluted fruit juice instead. If nasal congestion is interfering with sucking, thin the discharge with a few drops of saline solution and then use a bulb syringe to gently suck the mucus out of his nose before feeding. Drinking fluids will also prevent dehydration due to fever, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Slightly elevating the infant's head during sleep can make coughing more effective and improve breathing. Do not lie your infant on a pillow. Instead, place the pillow beneath the head of the mattress. AskDrSears.com states that chest vapor rub ointments may be helpful for some older infants, but warns they should be used cautiously as they can make breathing more difficult in sensitive children. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a vaporizer or humidifier may also be beneficial.