For any mother, seeing her baby sleep peacefully brings a sense of calm and relief. It is during this naptime that mothers usually examine their child’s physical health.
While examining your child, if you ever notice them sleeping with their mouth open, it means they are breathing through their mouth, which is not a natural way to breathe. Mouth breathing is harmless if it happens rarely. But if your child is breathing through the mouth more than usual, it could also be a sign of an underlying health complication.
In this post, we will tell you all about babies sleeping with mouth open and the possible reasons and treatments.
Should You Be Worried If Your Baby Sleeps With An Open Mouth?
A newborn baby is not adept at breathing through their mouth (1). It takes a while for a baby to fully develop this survival reflex. Therefore, if your baby is not breathing through their nose and doing so with their mouth, it could indicate an obstruction in their nasal passages and airways (2). Leaving it unattended for too long might affect the baby’s health.
Possible Reasons Why A Baby Is Sleeping With Their Mouth Open
Mouth breathing may occur as a result of the following conditions.
Accumulation of mucus in your baby’s tiny nose could block the nostrils and make it hard to breathe. Since the baby cannot breathe through the nose, they start breathing from their mouth.
2. Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the upper airways are obstructed due to various reasons, such as inflamed tonsils, enlarged adenoids, or infection. A baby with this condition exhibits symptoms such as snoring, restless sleep, irregular breathing, and mouth breathing (3).
3. Deviated septum
A thin wall of tissue called nasal septum divides the nose into two separate nasal passages. When this septum is displaced to one side or deformed, it makes nasal breathing difficult. It can cause a baby to breathe through the mouth instead (4) (5). This development of deviated septum may occur during the fetal stage, causing some babies to be born with the condition (6).
Babies can develop allergies that cause excessive production of mucus, which can then block your child’s nasal passages. You can try decongesting their nose with a nasal aspirator to help them breathe through the nose.
Babies who experienced breathing ailments in the past may develop a habit of breathing through the mouth.
Consequences Of A Baby Sleeping With An Open Mouth
The following are some of the indicators and also the effects of your child sleeping with their mouth open.
1. Dry lips and mouth
Breathing through the mouth causes saliva to evaporate quickly, thus making the lips and mouth dry. Babies who habitually sleep with their mouth open are likely to have dry mouth and lips.
2. Aggravated asthma
The nose filters irritants, dust, and pollutants. However, the mouth cannot perform these actions. Breathing through the mouth can cause potential allergens to reach the lungs, increasing the risk of an asthma attack in babies who already have the condition.
3. Tongue thrusting
Babies who are habitual mouth breathers may tend to push their tongue against the front teeth. This condition is called tongue thrust. Repeated mouth breathing could weaken the tongue and mouth muscles, leading to tongue thrust. It can eventually cause problems such as misaligned teeth, abnormal mouth posture, trouble chewing food, and even speech disorders (7).
4. Facial changes
Mouth breathing may interfere with the healthy development of the jaw and face muscles. It may lead to structural changes in the face, making it appear longer or narrower than usual.
5. Postural changes
In order to breathe easily, mouth breathers often tilt their head. This puts pressure on their pelvis, back, shoulders, and neck. It may lead to poor posture and may interfere with the healthy musculoskeletal development of the baby.
6. Behavioral changes
Research indicates that mouth breathing may cause sleep disorders, which in turn may lead to symptoms similar to those that occur in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (8). Also, children with ADHD often experience sleep deprivation, which may also cause mouth breathing.
7. Lack of sleep and development
Babies grow in their sleep. If the baby breathes through the mouth while sleeping, it is likely that they may not be getting good-quality sleep. Lack of restorative sleep can affect the child’s growth, concentration, behavior, and overall development in the long run.
How To Prevent Your Baby From Sleeping With Their Mouth Open?
Here are some ways to help rid your baby of the habit of mouth breathing.
- Humidify the air: If excess mucus is what is causing difficulty in nasal breathing, get a cool-mist humidifier that will increase the moisture content in the air. This increased moisture could help decongest a stuffy nose and make nasal breathing easier.
- Give a warm bath: Giving babies a warm bath not only helps them relax but also clears out mucus collected in the nasal passages.
- Try saline water: If the mucus in your baby’s nose is too thick to drain out, try using saline drops that can help thin it so it can be sucked out easily. These drops are safe and can be used frequently.
- Frequent hydration: Feed adequate milk or formula to your baby to keep them hydrated. Sufficient liquid intake prevents dehydration and keeps the mucus flowing.
- Filter the air: The presence of allergens in the air could be the culprit for your baby’s allergies, which in turn could cause nasal obstruction and mouth breathing. Get an air filter that can improve the air quality and reduce the chances of mucus obstruction.
- Use a nasal syringe: You can use a nasal syringe that can help suck out the excess mucus from the baby’s nose. However, you need to exercise the utmost caution when using it since a baby’s nasal passages are delicate.
- Keep the surroundings clean: If you have pets at home, you must vacuum the house frequently to get rid of any pet hair. Keep the house clear of pet dander and other allergens.
When To See A Doctor
Most of the above-suggested remedies could help improve nasal breathing, thus negating the need for mouth breathing. If nothing seems to help, if you notice your baby gasping for air, or if mouth breathing seems to interfere with feeding and sleeping, promptly see a pediatrician.
If you suspect your baby could be breathing from the mouth due to innate conditions, such as a deviated septum or sleep apnea, discuss it with a pediatrician. The doctor can perform various tests to determine the underlying cause of mouth breathing in the baby.
Babies grow constantly, and many habits of their infancy could slowly wane away by toddlerhood. A baby could eventually stop mouth breathing as they grow older. You can try some preventive steps at home to improve the baby’s condition. If nothing works, see a doctor. Parental supervision and regular doctor-checkup could mitigate the problems that lead to mouth breathing and help the baby grow healthily.
2. D.O. Rodenstein, N. Perlmutter, and D.C. Stanescu, Infants are not obligatory nasal breathers; NCBI
3. Suemy Cioffi Izu et al., Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in mouth breathing children; NCBI
4. Septoplasty; U.S. National Library of Medicine
5. Kian Karimi, Is Your Nose Bent Out Of Shape? Maybe It’s A Deviated Nasal Septum; Pacific Neuroscience Institute
6. Deviated Septum in Children; Columbia University
7. What is a Tongue Thrust?; Intermountain Healthcare
8. Masahiro Sano et al., Increased oxygen load in the prefrontal cortex from mouth breathing: a vector-based near-infrared spectroscopy study; NCBI