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Congestion and Sleep


With our eldest son turning five in a few months it is fair to say we have endured quite a few winters now! As both boys have been in daycare since a few months old, keeping their immune systems strong and fighting lots of viruses has just been par for the course. I think one of the hardest things we have to go through as parents is when our children get sick. Virus are especially challenging as there is often very little we can do except to provide support and help nurture our babies while they battle this themselves. How to help your baby when they are congested is something I get asked a lot about. So the following is some tips of this which is a mixture of my understanding of nutrition and wellbeing for little ones mixed in with some (hard learnt) parenting experience!

Changes in Food

Babies and toddlers are little versions of ourselves – I always try and keep this in mind when things do not go to plan – as adults there are days when we do not want certain foods or only feel like particular things. When little ones are sick they are just the same....except that they cannot always communicate this as well. So try to relieve some of the pressure on yourself here. You can actually read one of my very early blogs back when our eldest was about 18 months old, battling a cold and refusing breakfast (blog here). If you are looking for individualised advice I have a range of skype consultations which you can book online here.

Provide Opportunities for Good Nutrients

This is where it is more of a tricky balance. While little ones might not always go according to their normal schedule or want certain foods, you also still want to keep providing opportunities for them to get in some high quality nutrients. It can be an easy trap for parents to offer foods more appealing but this normally means foods which are higher in sugar or more processed such as ice-cream, juice, lots of refined foods like 'shapes crackers'. The key here is opportunity. Yes food may get rejected (and rejected a lot!) but that is still better than not providing it at all or even offering it at a later stage. You just never know if your little one will try it and have some. It maybe that you offer more of a range than usual but at least still try and keep the options nutrient dense. For example your toddler might reject their bowl of vegetables but they may have some whole-grain toast with peanut butter or baked beans for dinner. This is ok!

For mums who are breastfeeding this counts for you too as your body literally uses the nutrients you consume to make milk for your baby - and you will be fighting off these germs too!

Protect the Gut

Protecting your infant and toddlers gut is key for fighting off germs as this is their hub for immunity. All the saline solutions in the world will not fight the virus and clear your baby's nose like the antibodies in their gut will! At the very least keep the foods which will really irritate your baby's gut down (such as sugar and gluten) as this will only potentially decrease their immunity further. I also highly recommend probiotics for children - and boosting up foods which are naturally high in probiotics such as yoghurt. You can read more on this on an earlier blog of mine here.


When congested babies and toddlers will need more fluid, keep watch of this as some may decrease their intake. On the other hand, you may also find some actually prefer more liquid based foods which can be easier to consume when noses are really blocked and throats are sore.

Soup, basic purees and smoothies are all good liquid based options. I have a couple of warm smoothies on the blog which can be nice in winter.

Water and milk (or milk alternatives such as almond milk) are really the only drinks children should be having - broths and freshly squeezed vegetable/fruit juices are also ok - if giving 'packaged' juice it should be watered down (this is actually Ministry of Health guidelines) as too much sugar can irritate their gut. For babies just starting out on solids I would also still watch the amount of fruit during this time as too much fructose on a gut, which is just adjusting to solids, can also be problematic.


Babies and toddlers will most likely be more restless and or wake more frequently when they are congested. Potentially they also need extra feeds during the night . You do still want to maximize their opportunity for sleep as this is where they will be doing all of their recovery. This can be a challenge as you worry so much about them during this time - the following may help you here:

*Video Monitor - I have personally been very pro to encouraging our boys to self-settle and used a video baby monitor with both of them. This was particularly helpful when they were sick as it meant I could visibly see if they were waking in need of something or just being a bit more restless when they were sick – anything that helps to elevate some stress is only in our favor. Philips Avent have a great video monitor and we used this exact option for both boys.

*Extra Help to Self-Settle - You may also find your little one needs more assistance than normal to settle to sleep and/or back to sleep - this is ok! You will not 'undo' previous efforts to help your baby self-settle if you do this when they are unwell.

*Appropriate Clothing - I highly recommend good quality merino clothing and sleeping bags to help babies and toddlers keep their temperature well regulated - this is paramount if they are congested and fighting a virus and will really help to reduce their waking at night from being either too hot or cold. I rate the Merino Kids NZ range as the best for little ones (which is what Smushie is pictured in above and below).

Smushie rails

Hope that helps you with some ideas for helping with your little ones (and getting some sleep!)

xxx Dr Julie Bhosale


Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is not intended to provide medical advice or replace advise given by your medical practitioner. If in any doubt please consult your local GP first and foremost. In case of an emergency please call local emergency services (Dial 111 in New Zealand)

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