5 Tips for Toddler Breathing Treatments

My goodness, friends. It certainly has been an eventful few days. Toward the end of last week, I noticed Luca had started coughing pretty frequently. I didn’t think much of it until it started to have a more “mucousy” sound to it over the weekend. By Sunday, Jonah had also started coughing.

As a parent, worrying is inevitable. I was probably unnerved more than usual because last February Jonah was admitted to the hospital for 6 days due to complications from RSV. That week was so, so difficult and I felt helpless more than anything.

To make a long story as short as possible, when I got home Monday night from work, Luca was wheezing like crazy and his little tummy was retracting while he was breathing. Since these were the exact same symptoms that landed Jonah in the hospital a year earlier, (which was coincidentally the same night we found out I was pregnant with Luca) I called Kevin out of musical rehearsal in a panic. We decided to take him to the Emergency Room.

Once we got there, they ran a bunch of tests and took an x-ray of his lungs. He was diagnosed with RSV. We made an appointment with our pediatrician for the following day, to which I took both boys because Jonah’s symptoms were also getting worse.

Late last night, coupled with a 102 degree fever, Jonah’a breathing became very erratic (he was breathing between 70 and 80 times in one minute). This morning when we woke, Jonah was still breathing too quickly for comfort and his retractions were worse than what Luca’s had ever been. I talked to a handful of my nurse friends, and every single one really encouraged me to take him to the Emergency Room as well. Kevin could not take off of work today, so I took him myself this morning. Just as we suspected, he also has RSV. Since his oxygen levels were stable, we were thankfully not admitted. He was given an oral steroid and we are really hoping that it helps knock this out of him.

Since antibiotics do not work on viruses, the only option we are left with is breathing treatments. Luca is to have one every four hours, and Jonah is to have one every two hours.

As you can see, the littlest doesn’t seem to mind his too much. Jonah, however, is a different story. Last night he was so lethargic that it didn’t really phase him. This isn’t always the case though. We’ve sort of inadvertently created a bag of tricks to help make the most of each treatment – especially for our two year old. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are 5 tips for toddler breathing treatments:

1. Talk to them about what is about to happen. With Jonah, we’ve found that explaining everything to him beforehand really helps in any situation. Before each treatment, we sit down and we talk about how we are going to use the medicine to help him feel better. I remind him about the loud noise, reassure him as much as possible, and explain that the medicine is going to help him to feel better.

2. Involve them in the process. Our nebulizer is a child-friendly seal named Sami. He loves sitting beside Sami, and we even talk to him sometimes. I allow Jonah to help me squeeze the albuterol into the canister and his job is to turn Sami on. He absolutely hates wearing the mask (even though that is the most effective way to get the medicine into his system), but we always try to start the treatments in the mask. Sometimes we last a few minutes, and sometimes we last longer. We go as long as he will tolerate it before we switch methods.

3. Keep them occupied. We try and make the iPad a special incentive during breathing treatments. He is really into educational games at the moment, and we’ve had great success in letting him play a few games while getting his treatment. Our latest discovery is Jonah’s love of Play-Doh. Offering to let him sit and play with it during treatment times has also been very successful. Some other ideas are to turn on a special television show, color a page in a coloring book, read a story together, or even hold a special stuffed animal.

4. Take turns. Before we even start the treatment, we make a big deal about everyone getting a turn. Usually we’ll give Luca his treatment first and Jonah will quickly say “Jonah’s turn!”. If he is being especially resistant, we’ll all take a (pretend) turn and allow Jonah to give us the treatment before we actually turn it on for real.

5. Be encouraging. If your child is doing a great job of sitting still, tell them! Even when he’s feeling miserable, he’ll crack a larger than life smile if we tell him how brave he is being. If your child is struggling, it’s so important to speak calmly. The minute I start to get worked up, Jonah can sense it and then we’re definitely back at square one.

Have you ever given a breathing treatment? What tricks do you have up your sleeve? If you are the praying type, could you spare a few for the boys? Thank you so much!

26 thoughts on “5 Tips for Toddler Breathing Treatments

  1. Because of Jack's CF we do treatments 2 times a day. He is still too little to understand what is going on and it is nearly impossible. It was so much better for us when he was a month old. We do it a lot when he is asleep. Sometimes when we have to increase them when he is sick my husband and I double team and one of us plays with some toys while the other gives him the treatment. Hope the boys are feeling better fast!!! RSV is my worst nightmare. Jack got shots every month from November to March to prevent RSV.

  2. What an interesting post! I have never had to give a breathing treatment but have friends who do and never really thought, I guess, about how difficult it may be. I'll have to share this with my friends, thanks!

  3. Oh those poor babies! I hope that they get better soon. These are great tips for all the parents out there who need to administer breathing treatments, or nannies/babysitters who take care of children that have to have them.

  4. So hard! Our youngest has bad asthma/reflux issues and it's just so hard to see them have to go through all of this! Blessings!

  5. What great tips! My sister had to do nebulizer from time to time with her daughter she definitely will be reading this next!

  6. Oh no. Poor little one. My oldest had RSV as a 1 1/2 year old and keeping her occupied and being calm ourselves helped make the breathing treatments so much easier for her, We would play games to make it fun too.

  7. Bless your heart! My daughter had RSV at 6 weeks old. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences to see her like that. She's my first baby (2 years old now) and as a new mother it was hard to keep my composure, especially with my hormones not back to normal yet. Thank God my husband knew all about it from when my step-son had went through it. She only wheezes now if the weather gets bad and she develops a small cold but I am so thankful she grew out of it for the most part because she was hospitalized a few times before 6 months. Thank you so much for sharing these tips with other parents because I remember it being very hard and scary with not much tips like this out there.

  8. I am so sorry to hear about your precious ones. It's so hard when they are that little because its hard for them to tolerate stuff. Glad you have something that give them relief. Hope they feel better soon.

  9. These are great tips! I am so sorry to hear about your two little munchkins! They are so sweet, and it's so hard to look at them in pain and discomfort when they're that young, especially because they have such a low tolerance for pain. Hoping they feel better soon <3

  10. So sorry that your babies have to go through this! I've actually never heard of this before, but it seems scary. These are some great tips to get them through though!

  11. Oh man, I am so sorry that your family has to go through this. I have been very blessed thus far that my kiddos haven't needed something like this done, but I have a lot of friends who have had these types of problems with their kids. Hoping for a speedy recovery for both of your littles!

  12. This couldn't have come at a better time! We just came home yesterday with a nebulizer for my 2.5yo son 🙁 It's just awful seeing our babies hurting! We are still on the every 4 hours schedule, which is so hard for a squirmy toddler, but he seems to feel better after the treatment. Thank you!

  13. My sweet 6.5 month old daughter is still on breathing treatments from getting RSV at 10 weeks back in November. She does palmicourt every night and then when we feel like she's getting a cold (coughing, congestion, runny nose), we do albuteral. We have to do it every night until flu season is over! I feel your pain! I loved all of your tips. Since she had RSV at such a young age, she is now very likely to develop Asthma, so having the nebi for breathing treatments will be around for a while! Good luck mama!


  14. Aw this would be tough! You've got some great advice here. I'm sure it will be very helpful to others who have to go through this with their little ones as well. I only ever had to do this 11 yrs ago when my oldest was a newborn because he had pneumonia and needed it. It wasn't a struggle and didn't last long but I couldn't imagine! I'm sorry your babies have to deal with this!

  15. Oh my goodness! First giving virtual hugs to those precious adorable boys!!! Hope they are feeling much better. God bless I have never experienced, nor any members of my family any kind of breathing treatment but I am thankful that today's technology have found ways to give this type of therapeutic care. Will be praying for your family. 🙂

  16. Oh your poor (adorable) babies! You must be worried sick about them….it is so hard when they are sick. I'm so glad I came across this post because it provided so many helpful tips when a toddler is having breathing treatments or anything that they would deem unpleasant. Sending healing thoughts (and lots of energy) to you and your adorable little ones. They are so cute behind the mask!

  17. Amanda, thank you so much for your sweet words. I'm so happy you stopped by my blog! I definitely am so worried about my babies and cannot wait for them to be feeling better…hopefully sooner rather than later! Have a great weekend!

  18. Thank you so much for stopping by Jeanine! It definitely has been a hard week. I'm looking forward to them feeling better – I hate seeing them so miserable. That would be so scary having a newborn with pneumonia! Have a great weekend 🙂

  19. I am kinda jealous that he has a way cuter robe to wear than I did last night in the ER, lol. My kids or I have never had to do breathing treatments, doesn't look like it would be fun either. Sick kids sucks and going to the hospital sucks more, glad he didn't have to get admitted.

  20. It gets worrisome when kids get sick to the point that they should be sent to the hospital. Fever may lead to a lot of sicknesses, so it is really important as well to let the kids know what's happening and what will happen to them. It won't help to see a panicky child that's feeling more stressed.

  21. I can only imagine what it must have been like especially with your eldest having experienced it already. Glad you baby didn't get admitted these annoying viruses are everywhere now and breaks my heart when kids catch them.

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