Newborn Breathing Fast – What To Know

6 min read

Written by Ajanta Biswas

Ajanta Biswas

Newborn Breathing Fast

Breathing is the sign of life. The first warm breath and touch of the newborn right after the delivery can only give you the feeling of success after 9 months of struggle. But the newborn breathing fast can make you anxious. Do not worry as it is normal for a newborn to breathe faster than adults as their developing lungs adjust to the atmosphere outside the womb.

Newborn breathing fast may not be a cause of concern until it is faster than 60 breaths per minute. So, to rectify any alarming breathing signs you will first need to understand what are the normal breathing patterns of newborns. You will also need to know about the factors that can affect a newborn’s breathing. Also, you must know about the immediate medical care, diagnosis, and treatment of any breathing difficulties in newborns.

In This Article

Understanding Your Newborn’s Breathing Pattern

The breathing patterns of newborns are quite different from those of adults. You can notice faster breathing, irregular breathing, and even a brief pause of 5 to 10 seconds between breathing in newborns.

This happens because your baby is learning how to breathe as in the mother’s womb, they get oxygen through the umbilical cord.

During the entire fetal stage, the lung is filled with fluid. It is during the birth process when the lung starts releasing the fluid and only after the birth does it first inhale oxygen from the air.

So, it is natural for a newborn to breathe faster before they get used to the rhythm of breathing. Usually, within a few hours or one to two days, they catch their normal speed of breathing.

To understand any changes in the breathing patterns of your newborn, you will have to note down their breathing rate. For this, you will simply have to count how many times the chest of your baby goes up and down in 60 seconds. One breath means the diaphragm goes up and down one time. You can also take note of the breath for 30 seconds and then multiply it to get the breath per minute.

Normal Newborn Breathing Patterns

Newborn Breathing Patterns

In adults, the normal breathing rate is 30 to 40 breaths per minute. But, as a report published in ScienceDirect suggests, it is normal for a newborn to take up to 40 to 60 breaths per minute while they are awake. During sleep, the breathing rate will decrease to 30 to 60 breaths per minute.

You can even notice irregular breathing patterns in newborns as they learn to breathe. They may even stop breathing for 5 to 10 seconds abruptly and then start breathing again with 50 to 60 breaths per minute for the next 10 to 15 minutes.

All of these are normal and your baby will gradually learn to breathe like an adult. But in the case of breathing difficulty in babies, the symptoms will be different.

Factors Affecting Newborn Breathing

Newborn breathing

There are a few physical as well as environmental factors that can affect the breathing of a newborn. The factors that mostly affect newborn breathing are

1. Preterm Birth

If the baby is premature or delivers before 37 weeks then there remains a chance of developing respiratory distress syndrome or any other breathing difficulties.

2. Cesarean Delivery

In the normal delivery process, lots of fluid from the lungs is squeezed out during labor. However, in C-section delivery before 38 weeks, the trapped fluid in the lung can increase the chances of breathing difficulties known as transient tachypnea as a report in the American Journal of Perinatology suggests.

3. Premature Lung of The Baby

The lung or other respiratory organs of the baby can be underdeveloped at the time of birth and cause irregular breathing patterns. The condition will improve in subsequent days.

4. Difficult or Stressful Birth

A complicated or prolonged labor can cause shortness of breath for the baby. The baby will then have to be put under observation and additional oxygen support.

5. Respiratory Infection And Birth Defects

Any infection in the respiratory organs such as pneumonia can create a hindrance in normal breathing. In case of any respiratory birth defects, such as congenital diaphragmatic hernia, the baby will show difficulty in breathing and require surgery to improve the condition.

6. Extreme Temperatures and Exhaustion 

If the baby suddenly gets exposed to extreme temperatures (hot or cold), it can affect their breathing rates. You need to always keep your baby in a warm, cozy, and balanced atmosphere. Extreme exhaustion such as when the babies cry for a long period can cause rapid breathing in them. So, try to attend to and pacify the baby as soon as they cry.

7. Pollution

In case the hospital is near a construction area or a highly polluted area then the aerosols, harmful gases, and other dust particles in the air can cause breathing difficulties in babies.

8. Sleeping Position of The Newborn

The sleeping position of the newborn matters a lot. You should not put babies to sleep on their stomachs until they learn to move, crawl, or position themselves on their own. A report published in Springer shows that putting babies on their stomachs (prone position) increases the chances of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Thus, doctors advise putting newborn babies on their backs (supine position) while sleeping.

So, all these internal and external factors affect newborn breathing.

[Read : When Can Babies Sleep on Their Stomachs Safely?]

When is Newborn Fast Breathing a Concern?

As you can see from the above discussion, fast breathing in newborns is normal and not always a cause of concern. But in some cases, fast breathing can indicate greater problems. Below are the cases when fast breathing can be a cause of concern in newborns.

  • Breathing rate is more than 60 breaths per minute for a significant time
  • Exhibiting difficulty in catching breath by rapidly pulling the muscles under the ribs and neck while breathing
  • Showing difficulty in breastfeeding or bottle feeding due to shortness of breath.
  • Deep coughing alongside breathing problems indicating the build-up of mucus in the lungs due to infections accompanied by snoring or whistling sounds from the nose
  • Dry coughing that may indicate a dust allergy
  • Wheezing, an alarming sign that may indicate asthma
  • Getting blue due to shortness of breath. Lack of oxygen in the blood creates a bluish or greenish tinge around the mouth or lips, head, and the central part of the body.
  • Grunting and flaring of nostrils with each breath
  • Open mouth and having problems crying due to lack of breath

[Read : Snoring In Babies]

Seeking Medical Attention

Visiting the doctor

Seeking immediate medical attention is necessary for any of the above signs of respiratory distress. You need to call your doctor for a quick response or immediately go to the nearest hospital for breathing support. You can also call the emergency medical helpline number of your area to get instant advice on how to help your baby breathe in case the doctor is not available.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose fast breathing in newborns the doctor will at first check the breathing rate per minute. Then it will be followed by a thorough physical examination of the lungs, and airways, sensing the presence of mucus, etc. A blood test can identify the presence of any viral or bacterial infection in the lungs. For a more complicated case, you may need to go for a radiography or a mild chest x-ray to decipher the problem.

For treatment of breathing problems in newborns, the doctor may immediately shift the baby to NICU for breathing support. In case the oxygen levels decrease in the blood then the doctor will provide oxygen through the nasal cannula. If the baby still struggles to breathe then continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is applied to keep the lung working. Medicines or any surgical treatment of breathing problems in newborns will depend on the type of respiratory distress.

Newborns do have faster and different breathing patterns from adults. But it will not restrict them from sucking breastmilk or crying when they want to. If your baby suffers from breathing difficulty your mother’s instinct will immediately feel that. Notice the signs and if you suspect something wrong then immediately seek medical attention.


1. Can Fever Affect a Newborn’s Breathing Rate?

Yes, fever can affect the breathing rate of newborns. A study conducted by NCBI shows that with every 1-degree temperature increase, the respiratory rate on average increased by 8.2 minutes in babies under 12 months. This happens because it is our body’s natural way to release heat during a fever.

2. What Should I do if I Suspect a Problem With my Newborn’s Breathing?

If you suspect any breathing problem in your newborn then first help the baby to breathe. Make sure the room is well-ventilated and clear all the obstructions from the baby’s airway such as blankets and cushions. Then carefully title the head of the baby towards the back while supporting the neck to keep the airway open. Check the breath per minute and notice any change of complexion. If you suspect anything unusual or if the condition continues for long then do not hesitate to go for medical care.

Read Also: Breathing Problems in Babies – Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Ajanta Biswas,MA (English)

Studying English literature has been highly instrumental in creating a love for English and World Literature for this writer. Ajanta has been writing for more than two years. She specializes in creating short and crisp blogs that can create awareness among women about healthy pregnancy and among parents about better parenting.Read more.

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