Newborn babies don’t know how to breathe through their mouths unless they’re crying. This poses a huge problem for babies who are born with a condition that results in them not being able to breathe through their noses, such as bilateral choanal atresia, a narrowing or blockage of the nasal airway.

Very rarely, babies may be born without a nose, as was the case with a baby born in Alabama last spring. Eli, along with around 40 other individuals worldwide, has congenital arhinia: He was born without a nose. This condition occurs in about 1 of 197 million births.

For newborns who can’t breathe through their nose, the McGovern Nipple is sometimes employed. With the McGovern Nipple, a common bottle nipple is cut at the end, creating a passage for air. The nipple is positioned in the baby’s mouth and a  harness is placed over the infant’s head so that the nipple stays in place. The nipple forces the baby to mouth breathe. Without it, the child would suffocate.

For choanal atresia, the blockage will likely have to be surgically removed for the child to breathe normally. In the case of congenital arhinia, where a McGovern Nipple is an unreasonable long-term solution, a tracheostomy may need to be performed to bypass the need for nose breathing.

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