How to Safely Give Saline Drops to Babies

A Step-By-Step Guide

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Saline drops are arguably the safest way to treat nasal congestion ("stuffy nose") in infants and babies because they don't contain any medicine. Rather, they are able to clear mucus and draw moisture from swollen nasal tissues with a sterile saltwater solution.

Saline drops also allow you to control the dose more accurately. Saline sprays and mists are available, but they are best used in children one year of age or older. Sinus rinses are generally reserved for slightly older children who have larger nostrils.

Saline nasal drops for infants and babies can be purchased online and in many drugstores, pharmacies, and big box retailers. You can also make your own saline solution at home with a few simple ingredients.

If you are wondering when or how to use saline nasal drops in infants or babies, this article will explain how and provide you with simple step-by-step instructions and tips. I will also tell you when to see a healthcare provider or seek immediate medical attention if other, more serious symptoms develop.

Tips for Administering Saline Drops to Your Baby

Verywell / Jessica Olah

When to Use Saline Nasal Drops

Saline nasal drops are used to treat nasal congestion and dryness. They work by a process known as osmosis in which water molecules pass through cell membranes—from a less concentrated solution to a more concentrated one—to equalize concentrations on both sides.

In short, saltwater draws moisture out of tissues either to reduce swelling in people with nasal congestion or to increase moisture in people with dry nasal passages. It also helps soften and dissolve crusty mucus plugs so you can remove them.

Most commercial saline drops contain 0.65% sodium chloride (salt).

In infants and babies, saline nasal drops can be used to treat nasal congestion caused by:

How to Apply Nasal Saline Drops

First, make sure you have the right tools. You will need sterile saline nose drops and a clean bulb syringe. A bulb syringe is a soft rubber or silicone ball with a narrow cone-shaped tip that can suction mucus from a baby's mouth or nose.

Saline nasal drops and bulb syringes are both relatively inexpensive and readily available online or at most drugstores and pharmacies.

To safely apply nasal drops:

  1. Hold your baby in your lap. The baby should be in an upright or slightly reclined position. Rest the back of the baby's head on your arm.
  2. Put 2 or 3 saline drops in one nostril.
  3. Wait a few seconds. This will allow the saline to go into the nose.
  4. Point the bulb syringe away from your baby. Squeeze the bulb end to expel the air.
  5. Keep the bulb squeezed and place the small tip in the nostril you put the drops in.
  6. Gently release the bulb. This will create suction that removes mucus and extra saline from your baby's nose.
  7. Squeeze the bulb syringe into the sink or a cup to expel its contents.
  8. Wait a few minutes. This will give your baby time to calm down if the process was upsetting.
  9. Repeat steps 2 through 7 in the other nostril.

Do Not Overdo It

It's best to limit suctioning to no more than two times per day. Anything more than this can irritate the nasal passages and cause swelling.

Possible Side Effects

Though saline drops do not contain any medications, they can cause side effects, particularly if overused. The side effects, if any, tend to be mild.

Possible sides effects of saline nasal drops include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Nasal dryness if overused
  • Eye irritation if any gets into the eye
  • Stinging if nasal passages are cracked and dry

Handy Tips for Using Nasal Drops in Babies

You can feel understandably anxious about giving nasal drops if your child is fussy or in distress. These tips can help make the process go a bit more smoothly:

  • If your baby is upset or squirming, have another adult help you. A second person can help keep the baby's head and hands still.
  • Use saline drops before the baby feeds or goes to sleep.
  • Use a warm washcloth or cotton swab to clean the nostrils.
  • Only expel the air in the syringe bulb when it is not in your baby's nose.

Bulb syringes can be difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria. Be sure to syringe after each use, using soap and water.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Sometimes, nasal congestion in infants and babies is just the tip of the iceberg. It is important to see a healthcare provider immediately if your baby experiences any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing despite the clearing of the nostrils
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Sudden drooling
  • Fever over 104 F
  • Fever for any child less than 12 weeks old

Signs of a Medical Emergency

Call 911 or rush to the nearest emergency room if your baby experiences any of the following:

Summary

Saline drops can help babies and infants breathe when they are congested. It is important to know the correct way to use saline drops on your baby. The process involves putting the drops in the nose and using a clean bulb syringe to remove the mucus and excess saline.

It may be helpful to get the assistance of another adult. Be sure to clean the syringe after every use. Seek medical attention if your baby is having trouble breathing or has a high fever.

A Word From Verywell

It is always best to consult your child's pediatrician before using any type of nasal drop, even saline drops. This is especially true if nasal congestion is accompanied by fever, coughing, or fatigue.

If the congestion does not clear after using saline drops, call a pediatrician before using any other form of medication. Adult medications should never be used in infants or babies without the approval of a certified pediatrician or pharmacist.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chirico G, Quartarone G, Mallefet P. Nasal congestion in infants and children: a literature review on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological treatments. Minerva Pediatr. 2014;66(6):549-57.

  2. Li CL, LIin HC, LIn CY, Hse TF. Effectiveness of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation for alleviating allergic rhinitis in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Med. 2019 Jan;8(1):64. doi:10.3390/jcm8010064

  3. Hanson LA. Recommended antiseptics for killing bacterial growth in neonatal blue bulb syringes: addressing a clinical issue. Sigma Repository. 2017.

Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.