27 answers

Remedies for Infant Congestion

Out little 6 month old is badly congested. She breathes and sounds like there’s a whole slew of mucus in her chest. It came after a cold where she had a runny nose. Then she caught another cold (the by product of our travels to Cairo and Amman), and this stuffed up her nose. For two weeks she’s been blocked and breathing with discomfort. As expected, it worsens at night and she is having trouble falling asleep. She wakes once or twice for a feed, maybe because when she’s swallowing her blocked system clears just a bit and offers her slight relief.
She’s been exclusively on breast milk since she was born. Since she’s been sick she has added 2 to 4 extra feeds through the day (which is fine, I figure its possibly a sort of antibiotic).
I started (in the past two days) boiling and grinding organic barley to give her which I diluted with water. I hope this will help her feel fuller. She might be eating more only because she’s 6 months now and maybe just needs more to feel full. Who knows...
My dilemma is that I refuse, we refuse, to give her antibiotics. We give her a saline rinse with sea water a few times a day and at night before bed. This helps a bit with her breathing, but not with the chest congestion.
I called a few Alternative health and Ayurvedic centres but they all suggest homeopathic medicine. Although its homeopathic, its still medicine to me, and I’m looking for something more natural. Homeopathy may be natural for all I know, but I am not familiar with it and generally like to stick with food and food products, or acupuncture or massage (or just plain old sleep!) when it comes to ailments and remedies. But she’s only 6 months old, and I doubt my Chinese doctor will stick needles in her or make her drink that brown stuff she puts me on for colds. So I'm left with food and herbal remedies for a baby who's never eaten food or herbs before...
Do you have any do it yourself remedies? Any advice or suggestion on what we should do?
Its so dusty in this desert that I wonder if just being here is making it harder for her to recover. We have an air cleaner in our bedroom and no carpeting in the house. We wash the floors and everything on them with vinegar and water nearly everyday, use no chemicals, no perfumes that aren’t organic and natural and no baby products on her at all – only olive oil soap to clean her and organic, chem-free shampoo and conditioner for myself. If there’s an environmental problem, its one beyond our control I think since we keep our life as chem-free as possible (except for the occasional bag of gummy bears which I am addicted to and refuse to give up)! We don’t use antibacterial wipes but we are careful where we go and stay mostly home. I don't mind her eating dirt and bacteria (though try and stop her when I can), so we just try and limit what dirt and bacteria she is exposed to day to day (which makes a pretty simple, homey life for us all).
Any ideas as to causes or cures? Is such a long congestion normal?
I should note that I took her to two doctors already. One wanted to give anti-biotics and the other advised the saline rinse. I ALWAYS visit doctors, I rarely take their drugs unless necessary. Both doctors concluded she had a "cold" and it would go away on its own.

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Try putting a humidifier in her room. If you are in a desert, the dry air won't help her get over it. We have one always (we live in Las Vegas, NV). Also, my friend used to put this eucalyptus/Menthol rub in the humidifier together with Lavender Exctract. Her sister used to find it at a health store and that always helped. She did it in my girls' humidifier and it helped a lot. Good Luck and I hope she gets better soon. Congestion is always the last thing to go when you have a cold, and like I said, maybe the dry air is just not helping. Big Hugs! L.

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I too am raising my child with more of an alternative appraoch. We are in the minority and this is a wonderful webiste but I have learned it isn't one where alternative mothers hang out. That being said you really have to know lots and lots of information when it comes to alternative health, including naturopathy...which is homeopathic medicine. Just because it is called medicine doesn't mean it isn't alternative. The fact that you weren't sure about homeopathic means you should really do a little more homework. You can't get more natural than homeopathic. Here is a websits to two wonderful naturopathic doctors that treat children with natural approaches. Again if you aren't going to follow the western appraoch you really need to familiarize yourself fully with alternative health before you reject something that is actually along the lines of what you believe in. Hope this helps.... www.sandiegonaturalhealth.com

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With all due respect to your approach to your child's illness... she is quite young, and you first need to have a diagnosis, to see what is wrong with her. THEN, that way, a remedy can be suggested and implemented.

Bear in mind, that this has been going on for 2 weeks, with nothing helping or 'curing' it. Since she is a young baby only 6 months old... you need to make sure she does NOT have some kind of infection, or bacterial infection. If untreated, it can get worse, affect her lungs or damage it etc.

She seems very congested. There are a variety of reasons for coughs/congestion like this... which only a professional can determine. And, Pneumonia can be a complication, sometimes, in illnesses like this. And it can be dangerous and the child can end up in the hospital. THAT would be my concern as a parent... and that she has been this way for at least 2 weeks with no improvement.

Here is a link on coughs, in babies as an example:

Using guesswork and giving things to a baby, can also pose a danger or a risk. Because you don't really 'know' if it is safe for a baby. Especially at that age. And then meanwhile, it could or could not make her condition worse. Meanwhile, trying things and then waiting to see if it works... takes time... and meanwhile, her condition can get worse. To me, time is of essence too. Do you just wait and see if it gets better, or do something specific that you KNOW will work and is pertinent for her illness or infection? PLUS, at this age... many foods are not appropriate for this age... and you could get another complication, if giving her something that is not yet appropriate for her age and physiological development and digestive development.

I think, there are too many "what if's" and guess work... to appropriately address her illness. Namely, she has not been examined, AND there is NO diagnosis on her condition... so 'treatment' cannot be further applied, correctly.

I certainly hope, she does not have an infection of some kind, or a secondary infection. Does she have fever? Is she able to breathe? Is she getting enough oxygen in her? Babies this age cannot often 'know' to breathe through their mouth yet... and this can really affect them. Is her skin normal colored, or turning bluish? If her skin color is not normal this can indicate that she is not getting enough oxygen in her bloodstream, for example. This is dangerous.

At least she is still nursing. Because you don't want her to get dehydrated. This is also dangerous in a baby. Is she having enough wet & poopy diapers? If not, this can also indicate dehydration.

There are so many possible guesses... but only the appropriate solution will help her. But first, this will depend on getting a real diagnosis.

As an example: my Mom was once sick with congestion and coughing. She did not want to see a Doctor and just took natural things and let time 'solve' it. She too did not want "medicine." Well, after a couple of weeks it did not get better, she had a hard time breathing too, of course. She FINALLY went to the Doctor... and by then, she had developed bad Bronchitis and almost Pneumonia. The Doctor said she needed to be in the hospital, which she refused. Meanwhile, because she did not get her condition properly treated in the beginning, she had developed PERMANENTLY damaged lungs, and now has a benign abscess in her lungs now. NOW, her lungs are permanently weakened.. .and whenever she gets sick, she has to be EXTRA careful she does not get any secondary infections. AND, when she gets sick now, she also develops asthma. She learned the hard way. But her lungs are now forever 'sick.' If she had not gone to the Doctor, she could have even died, because she had walking Pneumonia by then. She didn't know and just thought it was a bad cold. Very sad. She is elderly.

For the elderly and young babies... their bodies are not as adept at fighting things off... and it is very important to properly treat these ailments. Even if just to make sure it is not getting worse or affecting the body, negatively.

I don't have any answers for you, but just some thoughts.
All the best and take care,

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Hi R.,
I agree with the other moms, you need to take her to see a doctor. However, my daughter did have a cold for almost two weeks right around the time she turned one. I thought she'd never get over it.

With an infant that young, what really helps is to run a humidifier in her room at night. When my daughter was REALLY congested, I actually ran two in her room, one on the floor right next to her crib. It seemed to help.

Good luck to you.

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Very quick, because I have to get my four kidlets get dressed. I go to Dr. Paul Fleiss, (ok, my kids do) because he's not a knee-jerk, give 'em antibiotics doctor. There are other wonderful pediatricians out there who are as careful (Jay Gordon, I think as well). When they say meds, it's time. Dr. Fleiss' best remedy for congestion in a baby -- breastmilk. Seriously. The stuff is miraculous -- better than saline because of all the natural antibiotic properties it has. Pump some and use it in a dropper to get up her nose.

***** Just noticed someone recommended something with honey in it -- honey should NOT be given to babies under 1 year!
As for feeding her extra stuff to "fill her up" -- it's not necessary. Until she loses her toungue thrust reflex and can sit completely independently (no Bumbo seat!) it's too soon. If she's hungry, nurse her more. Don't count sessions. Do you know the difference between foremilk and hindmilk? The latter is higher fat and arrives at the end of a nursing session. So let her be on one breast longer than usual. If she feels poorly, take thee to bed. Grab a book or a couple movies you've wanted to see, darken the room and nurse for a couple days straight. Don't forget breast milk up the nose!
(PS -- kids 11, 8, and 3.75 year old twins. All breastfed exclusively for over a year. Lots of colds -- we have dogs and tree-covered lot)
Good luck!

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I agree with Dianna. If your child has RSV it is serious. Please take her back to a pediatrician and let them know how long she has been sick. Poor thing, she must feel miserable.

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Hi R.,

This is a tough one. My concern, like others, is that your DD could develop a more serious infection if it's not solved soon. I've read all the advice you've already received, so I will add a couple of new things.

Something to consider: while it's admirable to want to treat dis-ease with only food grade remedies, bear in mind that we live in a global society now where people from all over the world--carrying all kinds of strains of bacteria and viruses--end up on planes, buses and trains with us. If we travel to countries where these bacteria are common, we may get particularly sicker than the natives because we don't have the antibodies that they do. In other words, using exclusively food-grade remedies would probably suffice if we all lived in relative isolation in our own small geographical area and were not exposed to all kinds of bacteria and viruses that are not native to our "people."

Kind of like how the white man brought chicken pox and measles to the Native Americans and wiped out thousands of them, even tho the white man had alrady developed antibodies. This kind of stuff happens all the time when "outsiders" enter the geo world of tribes that had been living for centuries in virtual isolation.

You may have great antibodies for the geo area you grew up in, but do you have the antibodies for anything/everything that may be floating around Cairo and Amman--or from the people who frequent or visit these cities? If you grew up there you probably do. If not, then your breast milk may not have these antibodies, nor will the food remedies.

Because your baby is young, her immune systems lacks the capability to create the antibodies it needs, which is why breast milk is so great. But breast milk has antibodies only for things YOU have been exposed to. If your DD picked up somsething in Cairo for which you have no antibodies, her body will not be able to create them either. And of course you know that it is the antibodies that defeat the infection, which is why antibiotic has its name, too.

So, with all of that said, you might want to re-evaluate the best approach for your daughter. At minimum, ask to have a chest x-ray taken (non-invasive) which will tell the doc whether she has pneumonia (bacteria in her lungs). If her runny nose has progressed into heavy congestion, it means her little body was unable to create the antibodies to deal with it in its lesser stage. Now that it's bigger and badder, i.e., it has invaded her system even more, it is less likely her her little body will be able to do it now, either. It's not a question of time here, it's a question of antibodies.

Does your DD have a fever? How high and for how long? This is imp info for any doc - allopathic or naturopathic.

While I am not a fan of antibiotics (I cringe whenever there is no other choice for my 2-year-old son), I know my own limits. And I do what I can to remediate the affect of the antibiotics, like giving him fish oil, probiotics and Vit. C on a daily basis. I feel that I am doing the best things to create a strong boy in this germy world we live in--a combination of letting him create some of his own antibodies (for colds that last a few days, for example) and using antibiotics when things progress quickly or last too long.

You haven't said why you are so opposed to antibiotics--is it personal or religious? Just be sure as you consider your alternatives, that you are giving equal weight to your precious daughter's immediate needs as well. Having congestion as long as two weeks is serious. If there is no improvement by tomorrow morning -- especially if you are implementing some of the great things listed here like elevating the mattress, cleaning out the mucus, etc. -- I would go back to some doctors and make a quick decision for your daughter's best health benefit.

One last thing.... Unfortunately, the food we eat today has about 1/2 (if that) of the nutrition of the same food grown 20-40 years ago. Because of soil depletion, pollution, contaminants in ground water and poor farming practices, a tomato or eggplant today does not have the same nutrition as yesteryear. Something else to keep in mind when you consider your own diet and also food-grade remedies.

Since dairy causes mucus build-up, maybe you could back off of dairy for a while and see if this helps.

And finally, I want to close by applauding your incredible efforts to keep a chem-free and organic home. I wish I was half as fastidious as you are! I wish you all the best!

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I respect your choice in doing things natural and organic ( I wish I could), but you need to have your daughter checked out--specially because of your trip. If she DOES have an infection of some sort it could be soooo harmful for her to go on with an infection like that than not to get the needed medical attention. The saline solution for her nose and humidifier are the best solutions for her symptoms.

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Congestion this long in an infant or any child IS NOT NORMAL!!!

I have to 2nd everything that Susan wrote...

There is so much to factor in...travel included. But, this is something a doctor NEEDs to diagnose. You can't guess at what it is.

She should be checked soon...we follow the 3-day rule for any symptoms with my son. If it lasts longer than 3 days I take him to the doctor, even if it turns out to be nothing. Not every sickness requires antibiotics.

This is RSV season and that can be very serious!

Good luck.

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