The Zen of Snot

Every mother has struggled with the snot monster … that endless flow of mucous from the nose of your infant or toddler. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s yellowish-green. No biggie while they’re tiny, just use a tissue or pull out the nasal aspirator (for you overachievers) and banish the stuff.

But sometime just before she starts walking that era will come to a crashing end. Approach her with a tissue and watch the screaming and crying begin, which leads to … more snot. And you can forget the nasal aspirator – she’s not having it.

What to do? It makes you queasy just looking at it.

When you’re at the market or the park the other moms look askance, like “why don’t you wipe that child’s nose?”  You’re mortified, convinced that you’re falling down on the job.

It’s maddening to see your kiddo with all that gunk flowing and not be able to help. It looks so uncomfortable. You just want to pull out that Kleenex and say “BLOW”. But your angel doesn’t necessarily feel that way. To her it feels just fine. Like a wet nose. What’s the big deal?

Lots of moms worry that swallowing snot will hurt little guys, but it won’t. It’s made mostly of protein and water, and will be digested and broken down in the GI tract like anything else. Occasionally it can upset little stomachs, so if your kid tends to barf up snot with a cold, that’s the reason. Keep it thin and clear by pushing liquids.

Cold medicines are no longer recommend for children under age 4 (if there’s a larger lesson to be learned from all those recalls, this is it), and they never worked very well anyway. The only over-the-counter exception is Benadryl, which is still considered safe as long as you follow dosing directions carefully. It may help dry up some of the flow, though it can have side effects and may make your little one sleepy OR more wakeful and cranky. If you’re determined to try it, do it when you have several at-home hours to watch for a reaction.

There are some other remedies that may help. Try running a cool mist humidifier in her room during naps and overnight. This will keep things moist and flowing, which may not sound like what you want to do, but it will help the snot dry up sooner.  Make sure she’s getting plenty of fluids. Your mother was right, it really does make a difference.

But in the end it’s just snot doing its job, flushing that nasty cold virus out of the airways and nasal passages. Give up the fight, it’s not worth it.



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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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