How to Use a Bulb Syringe on a Baby

Does your little one have a stuffy nose? Learn how to use a nasal bulb syringe to clear a baby's congestion.

Cleaning the nose of a newborn baby with a nasal bulb syringe

When your little one is congested, you'll do just about anything to help them. Most adults think of colds as mild illnesses, but babies can feel miserable quickly because they're unable to blow their noses and clear mucus from their nasal passages. That's why a bulb syringe is a must-have item for the medicine cabinet. Keep reading to learn when and how to use a bulb syringe, with tips for cleaning the handy suction device.

What Is a Bulb Syringe?

A bulb syringe is essentially a nasal suction device for clearing a baby's airway. It's used to suck mucus from their nose—often in combination with a saline solution, which can loosen the secretions to make them easier to remove.

A quick browse on Amazon shows there's lots of different products designed to remove mucus, like the NoseFrida and even electronic devices. A bulb syringe specifically refers to the silicone or rubber bulb that works by manually squeezing to induce suction. It's the type of device you might receive from the hospital when you take your baby home.

When to Use a Bulb Syringe

For babies, stuffy noses often comes with crying and fussiness, since they can't clear their nasal passages themselves. A bulb syringe can help relieve congestion for better breathing. Eating and sleeping will also become for comfortable with cleared nostrils.

A bulb syringe can be used whenever a baby seems particularly congested, says Nicole Leigh Aaronson, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist at Nemours Children's Health in Delaware and Clinical Associate Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University. But "it's important not to suction too often or this can become irritating to the delicate nasal lining. Usually, suctioning is not done more than four times per day," she says.

Why Should You Use a Bulb Syringe?

Here are some situations where a nasal bulb syringe could come in handy, says Dr. Aaronson:

  • There's a lot of mucus visible in the nose that won't seem to come out
  • Mucus appears especially thick
  • Your baby seems to be mouth breathing and unable to breath easily through the nose
  • Your baby is unable to feed without breaking the latch

How to Use a Bulb Syringe

Parents should be very gentle when using a bulb syringe; never use force or push too hard. It's only necessary to insert the device into the tip of baby's nostril in order to remove mucus.

You can use a nasal bulb syringe along with a saline nasal solution or without it. "Nasal saline can be used before the bulb in order to thin secretions before suctioning," says Dr. Aaronson. This saline solution can be store-bought or homemade.

Below, we've included directions on how to use a bulb syringe both ways.

Using a bulb syringe without saline:

  • Start with a clean bulb syringe, and pinch the bulb to squeeze out the air
  • Place the tip of the bulb syringe in the baby's nose
  • Release the bulb, which will draw mucus into the device
  • Squeeze mucus out onto a tissue
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Clean the bulb syringe thoroughly with warm soapy water afterwards

Using a bulb syringe with saline:

  • With the baby on their back, drip three or four drops of saline into each nostril
  • Allow the saline to sit for a minute or two to thin the secretions
  • Follow the steps listed above for using the bulb syringe without saline

Avoid suctioning your baby's nose right after feedings, as this could cause vomiting.

How to Clean a Bulb Syringe

When you think about the job a bulb syringe does, it becomes clear why it needs to be sanitized after each use! Dr. Aaronson recommends cleaning your bulb thoroughly with soap and hot water. You can follow the steps below for cleaning a bulb syringe: 

  • Run warm water into a bowl and add a dash of soap
  • Place the tip of the bulb into the bowl and suction the soapy water into the bulb
  • Shake the bulb vigorously to distribute the water evenly inside the bulb
  • Squeeze the water out of the bulb into a sink or trash can nearby
  • Repeat at least three times to ensure the inside is clean, and rinse with a round of water
  • Wash the outside of the bulb with the soapy water
  • Let dry with the bulb tip pointed down to drain
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