Your baby may not be able to speak yet, but as her parent, you are the expert on what her voice sounds like. If her cries and babbles begin to sound strained and raspy and you can hear gurgles and wetness in her chest, don't hesitate to call the pediatrician. Her congestion may not be the sign of anything serious, but in some cases she'll need to see the doctor.
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A few irritants can cause an infant's chest congestion. According to pediatrician William Sears, babies often experience chest congestion as a result of regurgitated milk and saliva coming up the esophagus. It's possible for this liquid to come into contact with your child's voice box, causing her vocal cords to close up to protect themselves. Croup is another possible culprit. This viral infection can cause your baby's voice and cry to become raspy and hoarse. It is sometimes, but not always, accompanied by chest congestion. Another possible cause is the common cold, which often causes chest congestion. A cold itself won't usually affect your baby's voice, but if she's crying frequently from her discomfort, she may have irritation in her vocal cords.
Treatment for your baby's congestion depends on the cause. If the issue begins right after she eats and she seems otherwise healthy, burping her and holding her upright can help here stay comfortable until the regurgitated milk goes down again. If your doctor feels the infant has croup or a common cold, he may recommend simply setting up a vaporizer in her room and giving her acetaminophen, a pain reducer. For croup, he may also administer medication to reduce swelling in her airways. As her other chest clears out, her voice should return to normal.
Because your baby's immune system is delicate, you can't protect her against all illnesses. A few simple measures can keep her as healthy as possible. Prevent regurgitation and reflux by feeding your baby small amounts at a time so her stomach doesn't get too full. Holding her in an upright position while she eats may also help. Prevent croup and common colds by keeping your infant away from anyone who's sick, and always wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water before touching her. Clean her high chair, pacifiers and toys with hot, soapy water at least once a day.
Monitor your baby closely whenever she has chest congestion, since it can cause breathing problems. If she experiences reflux regularly, take her into the pediatrician for a checkup. Call the pediatrician if her cold or croup symptoms don't appear to be getting better after a few days of home treatment, if she has difficulty swallowing or if she seems irritable. Check her temperature rectally a few times each day; if it rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, call the doctor. If she seems to be struggling to breathe or her lips or skin start to turn blue, call for emergency medical help.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- AskDrSears.com: Breathing Difficulty
- California Pacific Medical Center: Spitting Up By Infants
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus: Croup
- Fisher-price.com: What Can I Do For My Newborn's Chest Cold?
- DrWeil.com: Croup: Condition Care Guide
- American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery: What is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR)?