Why Does My Baby Sound Congested After Eating? 10 Reasons

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

If you have recently brought your newborn baby home and have noticed she has occasional congestion, particularly after eating, you may start to question the cause and whether or not it is a cause for concern.

Rest assured that your baby is more than likely perfectly fine and is just experiencing infant congestion. 

Why does my baby sound congested after eating? Infant congestion occurs when a baby is eating and at other times due to their small nasal passages becoming swollen or irritated. When this happens, it can make your baby sound quite congested when there really is not that much mucus in the nose at all. 

There are several different things that can cause infant congestion, and we want to inform you of these things to, hopefully, bring you some peace of mind!

Why Babies Sound Congested After Eating – 10 Reasons

Let’s look at the top 10 common reasons why infants may sound congested. 

1. Small Nasal Passages

Everything is smaller in babies — even their nasal passages! Because the nasal passages are so tiny in babies, even the smallest amount of swelling or mucus can cause them to sound congested. 

If your baby sounds congested right after nursing or drinking a bottle, it is possible that a little bit of milk drained into the nasal passages. This would cause your baby to sound congested, but it is nothing to worry about.  

2. Acid Reflux or GERD

Nasal congestion is also a symptom of GERD or acid reflux.

Though experts are not sure why the two are linked, they hypothesize that stomach acid reaches the back of the naval cavity and causes inflammation. This inflammation leads to stuffiness and congestion in babies with GERD. 

3. Spit Up Went Up Nose

Spit-up is just one of those things that come with having a baby! If you’ve been there already, you know that it goes everywhere.

What you might not know is that sometimes it can go back up into your baby’s nose, especially if they spit up while lying down. When this happens, they will sound congested until it clears up or drains from their nose. 

4. Heavier or Thicker Mucus Production

Babies naturally have heavier or thicker mucus production than we do.

As adults, we may find this strange or even gross, but it is actually an important defense mechanism to keep their nose, mouth, and throat moist and to trap and remove irritants from the air. 

It also plays a vital role in keeping them healthy by stopping germs from entering their body.

5. Common Cold

Nasal congestion is also one of the primary symptoms of the common cold virus. Saline drops and a NoseFrida (or a bulb syringe) are very helpful in relieving some of the congestion caused by a cold. 

6. More Serious Illness

There are times when a stuffy nose means more than infant congestion or the common cold. There are usually clear warning signs that denote something more serious is going on.

These symptoms include increased irritability, not feeding very well, not as playful as usual, lethargy, sleeping more than usual, increased work to breathe, or difficulty breathing.

If your baby is showing any of these signs, it would be a good idea to visit the pediatrician as these symptoms could denote a more serious illness, such as RSV.

7. Dry Air in Home

Dry air commonly causes nasal congestion. The body naturally humidifies air before it enters the lungs; however, in cold or dry conditions, it ramps up mucus production to help keep the nasal passages moist.

Sometimes, if the air is too dry, the mucus will thicken and build up in the sinuses.

Keeping a humidifier (like this ultra-quiet model) in your baby’s room at night and in your home during the day will help to add moisture into the air and prevent nasal congestion. 

8. Recent Changes in Weather

When sudden changes in weather happen, including changes in temperature and humidity, it can cause the nasal membranes to swell. This results in a stuffy nose.

If your baby is experiencing congestion during the big season-transition months, this could be why!

9. Bothered by Your Lotion, Perfume, New Soap, etc.

Irritants in the air including fragrances from perfumes, deodorants, lotions, air fresheners, soap, etc. can cause nasal reactions in infants. The resulting mucus is usually thin and clear. 

10. Deviated Septum

While it is not common, sometimes the cartilage and bone diving the inside of the nose can be displaced to one side resulting in uneven nasal passages. This is called a deviated septum.

Deviated septums can cause chronic nasal discharge, stuffiness on one side, frequent sinus infections, and breathing difficulty if left untreated. 

When To Be Concerned

A young child’s nose can get snotty and irritated for a variety of reasons and it is not always an indicator of an illness. Doctors advise that most babies and toddlers will have a snotty nose quite regularly.

However, there are a few tell-tale signs that there is more going on than typical infant congestion. These signs include: 

  • Nasal liquid that started out clear but has turned yellow or green
  • Wet or productive cough
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Not eating or drinking well
  • Irritability
  • Fever 

If you notice any of these symptoms in addition to a runny nose or congestion, visit your pediatrician for help determining exactly what is going on with your little one and what you can do to treat it. 

Baby Sounds Congested While Breastfeeding

A young mother breastfeeding her baby.

You may notice that your baby sounds especially congested while breastfeeding. Often there is no visible mucus, just an incredibly congested sound.

This is normal and happens to just about every baby while breastfeeding. It could be happening because some milk is draining back into your little one’s nasal passages. This is not a cause for concern and really cannot be prevented.

More commonly, however, it is happening because your little one’s nasal passages are so tiny, which results in loud breathing that often sounds like congestion when air passes through.

This is enhanced when they are unable to breathe through their mouth, for example, when they are breastfeeding.  

Nasal Congestion vs. Chest Congestion

Nasal congestion is not always a reason to be concerned. Chest congestion, however, is usually an indicator of something more serious that needs attention. 

Nasal congestion related to illness is typically caused by an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold.

Chest congestion is caused by a lower respiratory infection and occurs when the airways of the lungs swell and then fill with mucus. This often leads to a wet-sounding cough and can make breathing very difficult. 

If your baby has a persistent wet cough, especially if she is under the age of 2, it is best to see your provider in order to rule out pneumonia or other serious illnesses. 

How To Relieve Infant Congestion

Fortunately, most infant congestion can be remedied at home. Symptoms can be treated and steps can be taken to make your baby more comfortable.

For nasal congestion relief, try the following things with your little one: 

  • Use a saline rinse in your baby’s nose. You can purchase saline mist or make your own at home and use a bulb syringe to rinse your little one’s nose. Use 2 drops or sprays per nostril. After applying the saline mist, use a NoseFrida (or bulb syringe) to suck out as much mucus as possible.
    • It should be noted that doing this too often can actually have the opposite effect and increase irritation and swelling, leading to more congestion or stuffiness. If your baby has some stuffy-sounding breathing and otherwise seems unbothered, it is okay not to address it at all. 
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your baby’s room. 

If your baby’s congestion is persistent or if she shows any signs of infection or chest congestion, contact your provider.

These symptoms could indicate a serious infection such as RSV, pneumonia, or bronchitis. Additional prescription medication may be needed. 

Related Questions: 

How Long Does a Baby Cold Last?

A common cold generally lasts about two weeks, usually worsening slowly for the first week and improving slowly over the second week.

If your baby’s symptoms worsen or do not seem to improve after a week, contact your pediatrician. 

Are Colds Dangerous for Newborns?

While every parent dreads the day their child catches their first cold, it will happen eventually and is a normal part of childhood.

Immature immune systems paired with being around other people make babies susceptible to colds. If your baby catches the common cold, try not to worry, but keep an eye on her symptoms as it could escalate into something more serious.

If your baby is under 3 months, contact your pediatrician to be on the safe side.

If your baby is over 3 months, contact your pediatrician if symptoms worsen and you notice dehydration, persistent cough, loss of appetite, high fever, difficulty breathing, etc. 

Closing Thoughts

We know that any sign of illness in your precious little one can be scary. However, everyday infant congestion is not one of those things to be too nervous about.

As long as your baby is happy, eating, and free of illness symptoms, a little stuffiness is nothing to worry about!