Baby Breathes Heavily: Should You Be Worried?

The human body is one of the amazing specimens in the world, and one only needs to know how the baby develops to prove it. Take, for example, how they breathe.

The baby’s lungs develop very early on during the pregnancy. By the time the fetus is already on the fifth to sixteenth week, the lungs will closely resemble those of a human adult.


However, babies don’t actually breathe in the normal sense while in the womb. The movement that you see is caused by the swallowing of the amniotic fluid. Nevertheless, the lungs get some form of exercise while the baby receives the much-needed oxygen from the breathing of the mom. This oxygen moves toward the placenta then to the umbilical cord then to the baby.

During labor, the baby moves toward the birth canal to exit the womb. He or she may receive some oxygen, but he or she takes his or her first independent breath once the baby is already out of the womb.

Lungs Not Yet Developed

Even then, the infant doesn’t gain the full lung capacity. In the last few weeks of the pregnancy, the lungs will grow alveoli, or those air sacs that allow the exchange of oxygen, but they are not a lot. As the baby becomes a toddler then a full-fledged child, these numbers will increase tremendously – by the millions!

In other words, your baby still has a long way to go before he or she can breathe like you.

So How Do They Breathe?

It’s definitely concerning for parents to see their infant not breathing for few seconds or making some noise while they’re supposed to be asleep. But some of these behaviors are normal.

As infants acclimatize themselves with the new environment, especially breathing by themselves, they don’t have a consistent or rhythmic breathing pattern:

  • First, they breathe faster than human adults and even toddlers and children. An adult at rest usually takes between 12 and 20 breaths a minute. The baby, on the other hand, can have as many as 40 to even 60 breaths on the same duration!
  • Not only that, an infant’s breath may start off fast and shallow he or she may look like panting. Then it slows down. In between, the infant’s breath may pause for around 5 seconds.

Don’t worry, though, since as the baby matures, breathing will become more consistent or stable.

When You Should Be Worried

Despite the inconsistent breath rhythm of babies, parents should still know when it’s normal and when it’s not. Raise the alarm when:

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    They breathe more than 60 times per minute consistently.
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    Wheezing accompanies the rapid shallow breathing.
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    The baby is breathing heavily without a cough or sneeze.
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    The baby is born premature and has very quick and shallow breaths.
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    The nostrils tend to flare up every time the baby tries to breathe. It may indicate the infant is trying to get as much air as he or she can.
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    Absence of breathing is over 10 seconds.

Causes of Heavy Breathing

A baby breathes heavily abnormally when:

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    They feel very hot - Imagine yourself in a room with no A/C while you’re in the middle of summer. What does your body do? You breathe very fast. This is because the body is trying to regulate the core temperature, compensating for the high energy output. Breathing also helps the body feel cooler.
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    They have a condition called tachypneaTachypnea is a medical condition characterized by rapid shallow breathing. It can also occur in adults as well as in newborns, although by then it’s called transient. It should go away within 24 to 48 hours after birth. It happens because the baby’s lungs are not able to get rid of the remaining fluid, so the air sacs cannot open completely.
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    They suffer from a respiratory condition – This may range from asthma to pneumonia.
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    They possess a deviated septum – A nasal septum is a cartilage that divides your nose. It is, therefore, in the midline, but in many cases, it goes off center. Many can live with it with no issues, including babies, but there are times when they cause problems especially in breathing.
    View more : Best Nasal Aspirators to Clear your Baby’s Congested Nose

What Should You Do?

While babies are prone to shallow fast breathing, it’s still best to pay attention to it. Here are some tips you can do:

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    Monitor your baby’s breathing - There are many ways to check your baby’s breathing. You can place your ears closer to the mouth and nose, although normal breathing should happen through the latter. You can also bring your eyes closer to the chest, watching the movement. Have a timer handy and count for at least 2 to 3 minutes.
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    Bring the baby to the pediatrician – A pediatrician will check your baby immediately after birth, but you need to see the doctor again within three to five days to make sure he or she is doing very well. During this time, the pediatrician will ask a series of questions about the baby’s behavior and perform a physical exam.
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    Try to decrease the temperature – If the baby is suddenly breathing faster, try to feel your environment. Is it too hot? Then bring the temperature down. Note, though, a very cold environment will be harmful to your baby in the long run, so you also need to monitor the temperature regularly.
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    When other symptoms appear, bring your baby immediately to the doctor – If you notice other red flags such as a bluish color of the skin or flaring up of nostrils during breathing, don’t take any chances. See your doctor ASAP.

The many things parenting can teach you – an inconsistent and even heavy breathing of babies should not cause any panic. But then, it’s always best to heed to the side of caution. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or have your baby checked when you feel something is amiss. 

Stacy Belk

My name is Stacy Belk, I am a nurse, midwife and mother of two children. I would like to share my experiences in taking care of children including activities to do together, recipes to cook, good products to buy and health protection to your family. Do a search now if you like, all you need is here.

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