The Battle of the Bulb Syringe: A Guest Post By David Snell

Experience with babies is all beauty and wonder and discovery and joy.  Except for the parts that aren’t any of those things.  This guest post by me, David, Melanie’s husband, isn’t about beauty or wonder or joy -- it’s about mucus.  But it is about discovery, which I’ll explain if you’ll bear with me.

One of the least fun “parent jobs” when you have an infant, starts when your child gets a cold.  Because that mucus makes things very difficult -- it’s hard to breathe, which makes it hard to nurse.  And it’s hard to sleep, which is aggravated by the fact that the baby didn’t nurse well.  Plus it’s gross and germy and on and on.

So you’ve got to get rid of the mucus, which means sucking it out of the baby’s nose.  We use a bulb syringe nasal aspirator.  None of our children have ever liked it.  I get that.  It’s shocking.  That aspirator is pulling something out of your body -- not a sensation that your average baby has ever had before, and not a sensation that adults often have either.

Our youngest has had a cold for almost two weeks.  She shared it with me and I’ve been pretty miserable, but I do have a great advantage -- I can blow my own nose.  She, however, cannot, and in the Snell family tradition she hates the nasal aspirator.  And she has dozens of ninja-like moves to block me from using it on her.  She’s not silent like a stealthy ninja, though, she’s usually screaming her head off.

And I know it’s going to be like this, because it’s always like this.  I dread doing it and as soon as she realizes what’s happening my daughter dreads it too.  The whole situation is bad.  And, I finally realized, as far from our RIE-based philosophy as it could possibly be.  Is it respectful of me to put her in a wrestling hold just to suck the mucus from her nose? Even if the reason for it is to make sure that I don’t hurt her with the bulb syringe as she thrashes her head back and forth to avoid the horrible process?  You don’t need to answer, of course it isn’t.  And it was embarrassing to realize that because of how uncomfortable I was with the whole process, I was violating my general parenting precepts.

I realized this because I watched Melanie wipe our baby’s nose.  That’s another thing the little one hates.  But Melanie was showing her the tissue, touching the tissue with her hand has she explained that she needed to get some mucus off of our little girl’s nose, and then gently dabbing at her nose and finally showing her the mucus on the tissue.  After just a time or two of using this method our daughter starting leaning in to have her nose wiped.  Leaning in!  It was incredible.  She wasn’t whipped her head back and forth and blocking with her arms like Jackie Chan.  She was helping.  And she was happy.

So I figured, even if it didn’t work as well as a simple nose wipe, a more respectful method had to work better than what I had been doing.

And it did.

I showed her the bulb syringe and squeezed it a couple times, to show her what that syringe did.  I showed her the tissue that I was going expel the mucus into -- which was similar to a simple nose wipe, so I hoped that would help.  When I went to put the aspirator in her nose she grabbed the tip, but she didn’t slap it away like she was Shaquille O’Neal rejecting an optimistic shot, she just held it.  And then we both guided it into her nose.  When I let the bulb inflate to suck the mucus out, she didn’t seem nearly as shocked, and when I showed her the mucus we’d extracted she looked at it and we repeated the process.  It was easily the best, least contentious mucus removal of her entire life.  And that was my discovery -- when I stopped treating her like an obstacle and starting treating her like a participant, lo and behold, she started participating.