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Does your baby sleep with their mouth open? What to know about mouth breathing in babies

When to worry if your baby sleeps with their mouth open

Your adorable sleeping baby is so sweet to watch, but if their mouth is open, it may be time to take a closer look. Mouth breathing in babies can be a warning sign for certain health issues like sleep apnea. If your baby sleeps with their mouth open, you’ll want to bring it up with your baby’s pediatrician.

There are a few potential causes of mouth breathing in babies and different ways to resolve each one. Don’t worry. We’ll go over what’s normal, what’s not, and what to do about it. It’s important to get the correct information about mouth breathing in babies and to bring it to the attention of your pediatrician. Then you can take any necessary steps so you and your baby can both sleep soundly.

Baby sleeping in a bed with their mouth open

What causes mouth breathing in babies?

There are a few different reasons a baby may breathe through their mouth while asleep. Some are temporary reasons that aren’t red flags while other causes you’ll want to follow up with your pediatrician.

Babies don’t naturally breathe through their mouths while asleep. If there is an obstruction to a newborn baby’s nose, they would be more likely to wake up rather than switch to mouth breathing because of their facial anatomy at that stage of development.

First, if your baby has a stuffed up nose from a cold or allergies, he or she won’t have another option but to breathe through the mouth until the nose opens back up. Usually, a baby will go right back to sleeping with a closed mouth once the congestion clears. Sometimes, mouth breathing becomes a habit after a cold.

Another reason for mouth breathing is a condition called sleep apnea, in which the upper airway is obstructed. Mouth breathing during sleep is one symptom of sleep apnea in addition to snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, and restless sleep. While sleep apnea in adults usually causes them to be tired during the day and to gain weight, in children it more often causes them to have behavioral problems and to get enlarged tonsils or adenoids. The enlarged tonsils or adenoids may also be the cause of the sleep apnea.

Risk factors for pediatric obstructive sleep apnea include obesity, Down syndrome, abnormalities in the skull or face, cerebral palsy, sickle cell disease, neuromuscular disease, history of low birth weight, and a family history of obstructive sleep apnea.

Your baby may have also been born with a deviated septum, which is an abnormality in the cartilage and bone that separates the nostrils. This can lead to trouble breathing through the nose when asleep.

Cute newborn baby sleeps in a hat

How can I stop my baby from mouth breathing while sleeping?

Stopping a baby from sleeping with an open mouth depends on the cause of the mouth breathing. If it’s temporary congestion from a cold, you can use a cool-mist humidifier in their room overnight. You can also use a bulb syringe or NoseFrida to remove mucus from the nose before bedtime. Another home remedy is sitting with baby in a steamy bathroom prior to bed to help alleviate nasal congestion.

For a condition like sleep apnea or a deviated septum, you’ll need to follow up with your doctor for the next steps. For sleep apnea, the doctor may prescribe medication, a CPAP or BPAP machine, or the removal of the tonsils or adenoids. For a deviated septum, a doctor might recommend surgery.

Baby sleeping on their back

Is mouth breathing in babies something to worry about?

As a parent, we worry about pretty much everything connected to our babies. If it’s just for a few days because of congestion, mouth breathing shouldn’t be a problem. However, long-term overnight mouth breathing can cause many problems and should be corrected.

“Children who mouth breathe typically do not sleep well, causing them to be tired during the day,” dentist Dr. Yosh Jefferson says. Poor sleep may also affect growth, behavior, facial development, and dental development. They may get “long face syndrome” with a narrow jaw. It can even cause poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream, which can cause medical issues including high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleep apnea.

If your baby is habitually mouth breathing, bring it up with your pediatrician sooner rather than later. Don’t wait for the next well visit. Make an appointment to discuss the issue with your pediatrician right away. Not getting quality sleep can seriously hurt your baby’s development at this important stage of their life. Other potential effects like heart problems and high blood pressure can develop because of prolonged mouth breathing as a baby. Observe your baby while he or she sleeps to see if there are other issues such as snoring or breathing pauses so you can tell the doctor. Once the doctor has the information on your baby’s mouth breathing patterns, your pediatrician can best advise you on the next steps to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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