How to Safely Give Saline Drops to Babies

Step-by-Step Instructions to Clear a Baby's Nose

Using saline drops for babies with nasal congestion ("stuffy nose") is a safe way to clear mucus and draw moisture from swollen nasal tissues so your infant or toddler can breathe more comfortably.

Saline drops are ideal for babies because they do not contain medicine and it is easy to control the dosage. (Saline sprays and mists are also 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.)

This article provides simple step-by-step instructions on how to administer saline drops safely. It will describe the symptoms that require medical attention.

Tips for Administering Saline Drops to Your Baby

Verywell / Jessica Olah

How to Use Baby Saline Drops and a Bulb Syringe

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 nose.

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

To safely administer 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 two or three saline drops in one nostril. This is the typical DOSAGE
  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.

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.

Bulb syringes can be difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria. Do your best to thoroughly clean the syringe with soap and water after each use.

When to Use Saline Drops for Babies

The saltwater in saline drops 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:

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.

Making the Process Easier

You may feel 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 eats or goes to sleep.
  • Use a warm washcloth or cotton swab to clean the nostrils before giving the drops.
  • Only expel the air in the syringe bulb when it is not in your baby's nose.

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 side 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

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Sometimes, nasal congestion in infants and babies can be a symptom of a more serious condition. Call your healthcare provider right away 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 degrees F
  • Fever in 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:

Other Ways to Relieve Nasal Congestion

Other solutions for relieving your baby's nasal congestion include the following. These can be used alone or along with saline drops for added relief:

  • Run a cool mist humidifier in the baby's room
  • Take the baby into a steamy bathroom (run a hot shower with the door closed). Breathing in steam helps clear the nasal passages.
  • Massage your baby's nose. Using two fingers to gently rub the area around your baby's nose may help loosen nasal mucus.

Keep in mind that the the only safe sleep position for babies, even if they have a stuffy nose, is flat on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Never prop your baby's head up while they are sleeping.


Saline drops can help babies and infants breathe when they are congested. It is important to know the correct way to administer saline drops.

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 with the saline drops, call a healthcare provider before using any other form of medication, even if it is meant for use in babies.

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

  3. 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

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Child's Cold or Flu.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to keep your baby sleeping safe: AAP policy explained.

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.