Do Babies Need Humidifiers?

Keeping Moisture in Baby's Air

Most babies don't need humidifiers, but these devices are useful when a baby is suffering from the effects of dry air.

When your baby is coughing and wheezing, you would do anything to help her. Setting up a humidifier in the room where she sleeps may not feel like much, but it can make a world of difference for a baby who’s congested or has a cold. A humidifier is no substitute for medical care when your baby is sick, and you probably don’t need one if you live in a very humid place. But these relatively inexpensive machines can play an important role in keeping your baby healthy.

What Does a Humidifier Do?

Simply put, a humidifier adds moisture to the air. A variety of types and brands are on the market that work in different ways. Generally, though, humidifiers have refillable water reservoirs. When the machine is turned on, it pulls in dry air, which is passed across the water and pushed out of the machine in the form of mist.

Vaporizers have the same effect as humidifiers, but they work by heating water and releasing it as steam.

Why Might My Baby Need a Humidifier?

Adding moisture to the air may help ease a baby’s congestion or cough, so it’s a useful device to have in the nursery when your baby is under the weather. But some parents run humidifiers for their babies every day, which is usually harmless as long as you keep it clean. You may want to use a humidifier regularly if your baby is prone to dry skin or congestion.

A humidifier alone may not clear up your baby’s congestion and breathing problems, so call the pediatrician if your child is struggling to breathe and can’t get comfortable enough to sleep.

Most modern humidifiers are designed to work very quietly. If your baby is a light sleeper, a humidifier doesn’t make a good substitute for a sound-canceling machine or recordings of soothing music.

Choosing and Using a Humidifier

Cool mist humidifiers are generally safe for babies, but vaporizers and other devices that use hot water and steam are not. Even if she’s a newborn, use only a cool mist humidifier in her room to keep your baby and others safe from burns.

You’ll find plenty of models on the market, some of which are designed to look like animals and other baby-friendly shapes. Choose a model that automatically turns off if the water tank empties.

Set up the humidifier on a dresser or other high surface where your baby can’t reach it from the floor or from inside her crib. If you haven’t already done so, anchor the piece of furniture to the wall so it won’t tip if your child ever tries to climb it. Ideally, you’ll place the humidifier in such a way that its extension cord is out of your child’s reach. If that’s not possible, use heavy-duty tape to secure the cord to the wall or floor, so your baby can’t get tangled in it.

It’s essential that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the humidifier. Mold and other microorganisms can grow quickly in the dark, damp interior of the device, and your child will then breathe in that stuff. Even if other parts of your house remain cluttered and dusty, keep baby’s humidifier clean as a whistle. That may mean you have to clean it every day or two, but taking a few minutes of effort to clean it is worth it if it helps your baby breathe more easily.

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