Published
Jun 17, 2024
in
Newborn
Newborn
Published
June 17, 2024
6/17/24
in
Newborn

Newborn breathing

Newborn breathing can seem a bit unusual. Sometimes they make strange sounds, their breathing patterns seem irregular, and sometimes you may wonder if they’re holding their breath. What’s going on? Let's explore all things newborn breathing so you feel more at ease.
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Written by
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Dr. Marcy Borieux
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Marcy Borieux
Pediatrician

Normal newborn breathing

A newborn’s normal respiratory rate ranges from 40 to 60 breaths per minute while awake, which might slow down a bit while sleeping. Since newborns are still getting the hang of using their lungs, their breathing can be a bit irregular. It's normal for them to pause their breathing for about 5 to 10 seconds, followed by brief periods of rapid breathing.

While irregular breathing usually happens when they’re sleeping, you may also notice it when they are awake. As long as your newborn appears comfortable and has no changes in skin color (blue or purple), there’s no need to worry.

Newborn breathing noises

Newborns are noisy. Some of these sounds come from leftover fluid from the birth process, giving them a congested, cold-like sound, but it's completely normal.

Here are some normal newborn breathing sounds:

  • Squeaking
  • Grunting (do I smell poop?)
  • Coarse, congested sounds
  • Snorting

Persistent noisy breathing beyond the first few weeks usually results from the immaturity of their airways. Newborns have soft and 'floppy' anatomy, making their sounds easier to hear. As babies mature, their breathing tends to regulate and becomes quieter.  

Laryngomalacia

If your newborn's breathing becomes more pronounced, it’s possible they have laryngomalacia, a birth defect in their voice box. If you’re worried about your baby’s breathing don’t hesitate to contact your local or Summer Health pediatrician for further guidance and support.  

Other newborn breathing noises

In addition to the usual newborn breathing sounds, there are a few others you should watch for:

Wheezing

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that can happen when your baby exhales. When detected with a stethoscope, doctors can determine if the sound originates from the smaller air sacs, which could indicate a viral infection or asthma. If you hear your child wheezing, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

Grunting

When your newborn grunts, it's usually because they have leftover fluid or mucus from birth. Grunting helps them breathe by getting enough oxygen into their lungs. As your baby grows, you might hear grunting when they experiment with different sounds or during bowel movements.

Barking cough

If your baby has a rough, coarse barking cough, it’s often a sign of illness, like croup. You might also notice cold symptoms and a barking cough, which requires immediate medical attention.

Stridor

This distinct, harsh noise typically occurs during inhalation and is commonly associated with severe bacterial infections or can happen if a foreign object is inhaled. When stridor is accompanied by a barking cough, it can indicate that your child has croup.

Rapid Breathing

Typically, babies breathe quickly in brief intervals. Rapid breathing, or fast breathing, is only concerning if it lasts more than a few seconds or if your baby simultaneously pulls at their abdomen or ribcage and flares their nostrils.

Breathing problems: Abnormal signs of newborn breathing

Below are some signs of breathing problems. If you notice your baby breathing in any of these ways, contact your local or Summer Health pediatrician as soon as possible.

Rapid breathing with accessory muscles

When a newborn experiences breathing difficulties, accessory muscles activate to support the lungs. This appears as rapid breathing, a visible rib cage beneath the skin, or retractions, or the abdomen resembling a swift seesaw motion. Sometimes, the baby's nostrils flare with each breath too. This breathing pattern requires immediate emergency attention.

Slow breathing

Slow breathing can occur in babies with various metabolic issues, toxic exposures, neurological issues, or when a baby becomes fatigued from prolonged breathing. It can be accompanied by lethargy and is a sign that your baby should receive emergency care.

Prolonged pauses in breathing

Prolonged pauses in breathing are a symptom of respiratory infection, cardiac issues, or neurological conditions. Pauses in breathing for 20 seconds or more are an emergency, and you should call 911 immediately.

Cyanosis

Cyanosis indicates there is less oxygen in the bloodstream, causing the skin to turn blue or purple. Cyanosis is usually a symptom of a respiratory or cardiac issue. Any instance where your baby’s skin turns blue or purple, even if they are breathing, warrants immediate medical attention. The one exception is only if the baby's feet or hands turn blue while the rest of the body remains a normal color. This is known as acrocyanosis and is completely normal.

When do newborn breathing patterns normalize?

Newborn breathing patterns typically normalize within the first six months of life or even longer for premature infants. This extended period is due to their ongoing development and learning to use their lungs efficiently.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s breathing, please don’t hesitate to contact the team of pediatricians at Summer Health for individualized guidance and support. For any signs of respiratory distress, contact emergency services immediately.

References
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