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Ask Dr. Sears: Baby Snoring

Q. Should I be concerned about my 3½ week-old's snoring?

A. Welcome to the world of noisy newborns! Young babies tend to be noisy breathers in general, because their airways are narrow and filled with lots of bubbly secretions. The air passing through these puddles of secretions cause lots of different vibratory sounds, similar to the musical sound produced by a reed instrument. That's all snoring is: the sound produced by the vibrating soft tissues of the airway.

Most of the time, these sounds are just a noisy nuisance that gradually subsides as baby's airways grow and as he learns to swallow excess saliva. Sometimes snoring can be a clue that the breathing passages are not as clear as they need to be. When the breathing passages are obstructed, baby has to breathe harder to move air past the obstructions, which produces the sound of snoring. Here are some ways to keep snoring in check:

  • Hose little noses. One of the best home remedies to help your baby breathe easier is to keep those little nasal passages clear. If your baby's nose seems stuffy, squirt a few drops of saltwater nose drops into your baby's nose at least once a day. Most pharmacies should sell a saline nasal spray, but you can make your own by dissolving ¼ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of water. Use a nasal aspirator—a suction bulb with a rubber plastic tip—to suck out excess secretions gently.
  • "Steam clean" your baby's airways. Stand in a warm shower with your baby and let the humidified air loosen excess secretions in the airway. Do this just before bedtime, since noisy breathing from clogged airways is mostly a problem during sleep. To humidify the air in your baby's bedroom, run a warm-mist vaporizer. This can be especially helpful during times when central heating dries the bedroom air.
  • Allergy-proof baby's bedroom. Remove allergens, such as dust collectors and animal dander, from your baby's sleeping environment.

When Snoring Becomes a Health Risk

Each month as your baby grows and his airways mature, the snoring should subside...or at least turn into a more bubbly, gurgling noise during the pre-teething stage, when he produces extra saliva. But if loud snoring persists, start a health journal. Record your baby's different breathing sounds, day-by-day. If your baby's snoring worsens, be sure to mention this to your baby's doctor. Rarely should snoring interfere with baby's breathing, but your doctor can run a special test, called a polysomnogram that records the breathing patterns during sleep.

You should follow your instincts, though. If you are concerned about baby's snoring now, tell your doctor about it during your next check-up. First, your doctor will check your baby's nasal passages to be sure that they are unclogged and there are no problems with the structure of his airways. Sometimes the nasal septum (the bone that divides the two nasal passages) is deviated to one side, causing partial obstruction of one of the nostrils. Babies will compensate by moving enough air through the unobstructed nostril. A deviated septum can account for noisy breathing. Enlarged tonsils are a common cause of snoring in older children, but this is rarely the case in newborns. Your doctor will also check your baby's throat to be sure there are no structural abnormalities, such as unusual movement of baby's palate or cysts.

Finally, your doctor will watch your baby breathe. Some babies have a quirk called laryngomalacia, which causes noisy breathing. In this condition, the cartilage that normally keeps the breathing passages open has not fully matured. As baby grows, the airway structures mature and this condition—along with the loud sounds that accompany it—will subsides by six months. A clue to laryngomalacia is the normal dent in your baby's neck just above the breastbone caves in a bit when baby inhales. Most babies have none of these structural problems.

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