Infant Breathing Difficulties
Any kind of breathing difficulty your infant or child experiences can be scary for parents. Infants have some unusual breathing patterns that may or may not be true problems, so it is important to figure out what is really a difficulty caused by illness and what is not. Knowing what to expect and when to call the doctor can help you assess what to do when you suspect breathing difficulties.
Newborn to Two Months: Common Breathing Patterns
Babies are different from large folks in many ways. Spend some time watching and listening to your baby asleep and awake and you will notice some differences. The behaviors below aren’t necessarily abnormal and don’t necessarily mean the baby has a breathing difficulty.
- Snorting. Since babies breathe through their noses, and do not have any way to blow their noses, snorting, sneezing, and whistling through the nose are common when mucus is stuck in the nose. This stuffiness may interfere with sleeping and feeding, and may cause concern for parents, but is usually harmless. If it bothers you (and do call your pediatrician for more help if needed) you can squirt nasal saline or breast milk into the nose and then use a bulb syringe (a rubber ball tipped with a little hose) to suction the nose.
- Pauses and speedups. Babies do “periodic breathing.” Your baby may go 10 or even 15 seconds without breathing at all, and then start up again. It is also common for newborns to have short spells of panting or rapid breathing, which is disconcerting, but if these speclls come and go and your baby has no other signs of illness, this should not be a cause for worry.
- Saliva and regurgitated milk can cause chest congestion. Try letting your baby sleep upright in your arms or in a carseat so that the congestion can drain.
Warning Signs of Actual Breathing Difficulties in Infants and Toddlers
If your child is actually having difficulty breathing, you will want to consult a pediatrician or emergency room right away. The following are signs of a problem that needs immediate attention.
- “Retracting” or caving in of the rib cage, breastbone, or collarbone area with each breath. This is a sign of a baby working too hard to get air.
- Flaring the nostrils with each breath is also a sign of a baby trying to get more air.
- While a bluish color in a baby’s hands and feet is fairly normal, a bluish color in the parts of the body that normally stay warm—his or her lips, face, or trunk—could be a sign that he or she is not getting enough oxygen.
- A grunt with each exhalation may indicate difficulty breathing.
- Breathing which stops for longer than 10 seconds requires attention.
- Breathing at more than 60 breaths a minute for more than a minute or two requires attention.
- A high-pitched sound when your child inhales or exhales, along with labored breathing, may indicate asthma, so check with your doctor to determine what to do.
- A high-pitched rasping sound, or a loud cough like a seal barking, may mean croup, a virus that especially affects children between the ages of six months to three years, and comes with a runny nose and sore throat. According to babycenter.com, it’s best to go to a doctor for croup even though it’s a fairly common illness.
- Audible wheezing and labored, rapid breathing, in the absence of signs of croup, may mean pneumonia. Definitely go to a doctor, especially if noise seems to be coming from the chest.
- Lethargy or fever associated with these symptoms is another reason to consult a doctor.
Home Remedies for Croup or Difficulty Breathing
If your child has difficulty breathing due to croup, you may find that turning on the shower and letting the bathroom get steamed up, then holding him upright on your lap in the steamy room while clapping him on the back and chest will help relieve his breathing. Or, as Dr. Sears (of the health site AskDrSears) suggests, have the child inhale mist from a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer, or bundle him up and take a walk with him in cool, humid night air for 10 or 20 minutes.
If you cannot provide relief for your child’s labored breathing by trying these at-home methods, take your child to an urgent care clinic or emergency department, since there may not be much your doctor can do to help over the telephone.
Watch and Be Prepared
Try to assess what is going on, whether it is caused by illness or is a normal variation in breathing, and be ready to take your child for medical attention if necessary.
Babies With Serious Breathing Difficulties
AskDrSears. "Breathing Difficulty in Children." http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/childhood-illnesses/breathing-difficulty
WebMD. "Your Newborn Baby's Breathing Noises" http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/your-newborn-babys-breathing-noises
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "What Might Breathing Problems Indicate in a Newborn?" http://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/breathing-problems#.VQh7zGayXC8
What to Expect.com. "Noisy Baby Breathing." http://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/ask-heidi/noisy-baby-breathing.aspx
BabyCentre.com. "Your Baby's Breathing: What's Normal." http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a558559/your-babys-breathing-whats-normal
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.