Breastfed babies have a lower incidence of upper respiratory infections than do those who are formula fed, says pediatric gastroenterologist Mark Corkins, M.D. Mothers whose babies are often congested or sick might suspect the cow milk present in baby formula. However, according to AskDrSears.com, most infants have chest congestion due to saliva and regurgitated milk. Until you can consult with your baby's pediatrician, hold your baby upright in your arms or place him in an infant car seat.
Corkins says it is a myth that the milk in baby formula causes ear infections and congestion. According to him, cow milk-based formula has never been proven to cause ear and upper respiratory infections. Instead, Corkins believes babies who are bottle-fed are more prone to infections because they aren't getting the immune-boosting benefit of human milk. Also, many bottle-fed babies are fed lying down, making them prone to ear infections. In an infant who drinks a bottle lying down, the Eustachian tubes drain ear fluid into the back of the throat behind the nose where bacteria can feed on it, Corkins says.
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Lillian M. Beard, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says at 6 weeks of age, infants have an overabundance of congestion at the back of their nose. As a result, they might snore loudly in a way that sounds like a breath. Beard says this is often mistaken for chest congestion. The pediatrician recommends clearing your baby's nasal passages with an infant nasal aspirator. Put two drops of over-the-counter saline solution into each nostril. This will liquefy the congestion, making it easy to suction with the aspirator. To remove the mucous, squeeze the bulb of the aspirator before placing it into your baby's nose. Release the bulb when it is as far back into the nose as it will comfortably go. Also, elevate your baby's head and chest when he is lying on his back. Beard recommends placing two telephone books under the baby's mattress to elevate her without relying on dangerous pillows in his crib. This should help her breath easier.
AskDr.Sears.com notes that infant wheezing may resemble chest congestion. However, not all wheezing is harmless. Labored breathing is a sign of something more. According to MayoClinic.com, bronchiolitis is a common lung infection found most frequently in infants younger than 6 months of age. The illness, symptoms of which are similar to a cold, usually surfaces during the winter months. Indications of bronchiolitis include wheezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, rapid heartbeat or a slight fever, although this is not always present. Symptoms might last for one to two weeks. In cases in which another health problem is present or when an infant is born prematurely, bronchiolitis might lead to hospitalization. MayoClinic.com says that in infants who are otherwise healthy, the illness will go away on its own. However, if your baby has marked difficulty breathing or has bluish-looking skin, get emergency medical care immediately. Other symptoms requiring immediate attention are vomiting, shallow breathing at 40 breaths per minute, exhaustion from breathing, lethargy, refusal to drink fluids, audible wheezing and breathing too fast to ingest food or drink.
Cold and Symptoms
Your baby's congestion might also be a sign that he has a common cold. MayoClinic.com notes that the first sign of a cold is often congestion or a runny nose. Nasal discharge might be clear at first but later appear thicker and tinged with shades of yellow or green. Your baby might have a low-grade fever of about 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, sneeze, cough and lack an appetite. A cold is usually harmless, but if your baby is younger than 2 to 3 months of age, call your doctor. However, if your baby is 3 months or older, you will need to call your pediatrician for the following: fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit; red eyes; yellow eye discharge; signs of ear pain; thick, green nasal discharge persisting more than two weeks; cough lasting more than one week; and not wetting diapers as usual. Other serious symptoms include coughing blood-tinged sputum, difficulty breathing, bluish lips and mouth, and refusing to nurse. To ease your baby's discomfort, consult with your doctor about any over-the-counter medication that might help.
- Ask Dr. Sears: Breathing Difficulty
- Baby Center; Does the Dairy in Forumula Increase Ear Infections or Congestion; Mark Corkins, M.D.
- Baby Ant; Your Baby Today: New Baby, New Mom: Expert Q&A: Pediatrics: Chest Congestion; Lillian Beard, M.D.
- MayoClinic.com: Bronchiolitis
- MayoClinic.com: Common Cold in Babies