How to use a nasal aspirator (a.k.a. a baby snot sucker)

It’s a tiny tool, but a nasal aspirator and rubber bulb syringe can provide sweet relief for your congested baby. Here's exactly how to use one—just prepare yourself for a few tears.

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Any parent will tell you that a nasal aspirator or rubber bulb syringe is a medicine cabinet must-have. These tiny tools help parents clear their newborn’s sensitive nasal passages of mucus, helping relieve congestion in a fussy baby that might be having a hard time feeding and breathing.

“Babies often get viruses that cause respiratory congestion,” says Debby Voskamp, a nurse educator in the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “Whereas older babies might just start breathing through their mouth when congested, babies under three months are really struggling.” Enter the nasal aspirator or bulb syringe. “Usually, we recommend that parents place a few drops or squirts of saline solution (available at a pharmacy) in each nostril to try and liquefy secretions,” says Voskamp. Lay your baby on his back to apply the saline solution and let it sit for 20 seconds to see if that alone will help ease congestion. If not, you may want to try the aspirator or bulb syringe. She also recommends a cool-mist humidifier to help ease congestion.

Aspirator or bulb syringe—what’s the difference?
Well, the source of suction, really. An aspirator uses a flexible tube that is placed in your baby’s nostril while you suck on the other end of the tube. The mucus is caught in a disposable filter or a piece of tissue, depending on the model. (Some products may differ slightly, but your pharmacist can explain how to use whichever product you’re purchasing.) With a bulb syringe, you squeeze out the air from the bulb to create a vacuum before placing the tip in your baby’s nostril; the bulb is then released to suction out mucus and any secretions are expelled into a tissue. Be warned that most babies get pretty grumpy when having the snot literally sucked, so try to be calming and reassuring while trying to get the job done as quickly as possible.     A sick baby    
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Be sure to wipe the tip of each and repeat the same steps in the other nostril. Remember that a baby’s nasal passages are delicate, so suction gently, not too deep, and no more than three times a day. Aspirators and bulb syringes should be cleaned after each use with a little soap and warm water. Rinse well and let it dry, tip end down.

Your baby should feed better and you should see an improvement in her behaviour after an aspirator or bulb syringe is used. “Babies feel a lot better if their noses are unblocked,” says Voskamp. Still, be cautious of using the aspirator too often, she notes. “If you’re doing it all the time, it’s probably a good sign that you should go to the doctor or hospital for an evaluation.” How do you know if a trip to the ER is necessary? If your baby is pink, looks well, isn’t distressed and is feeding well, you can see your paediatrician or family doctor. But if your little one looks pale or grey, seems to have trouble breathing, seems distressed or isn’t feeding well, it’s time to go to the emergency room.

Read more:
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Why your baby’s gut bacteria is so important

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