Irregular Breathing in Newborns


You love looking at her when she sleeps…. Trying to remember all those little details that are changing so quickly. She is so peaceful, with her eyes covered in those long lashes people would pay to have. You are looking at her face, her sweet little face, her adorable baby cheeks and her kissy lips. She also has, what seems to be, the beginning of a double chin. Her arms are long and she has such delicate tiny fingers. And she is not breathing!! Wait, what?! No.. she just took a breath! But now she's not breathing! 1-Mississippi, 2- Mississippi, 3 Mississippi long pause and then a big deep breath?! What does that mean!! Is she sick? I better wake her up! But she seems fine, she is all pink and not at all blue or pale?! She is breathing quickly now, 1-2-3-4-5 breaths then she stops again. Big pause and then back again! What is going on!?!?

 What is going on is that your baby is being a baby. It is absolutely normal for a newborn baby to breathe irregularly. As a new parent, you may wonder why babies' breathing patterns are so different than your own regular and steady breathing. Their breathing will alternate between slow and fast and be punctuated by pauses, from birth until about 1 year of age. This should not cause any concern. The variability of the breathing will decrease progressively in time as your newborn’s metabolism will regulate itself. 

 If the changing breathing is associated with some type of noise or changes drastically, it may be a sign of respiratory distress. Here are some things to look out for:

 Hissing noise

Could be explained by a small blockage in a nostril. Babies breathe through their nose and not through their mouth, so if something is stuck in their nose or secretions accumulates there, it will create a whistling type of noise. It could also be a little bit of milk that came up during a burp and dried there. So just keep an eye on that.

Faster breathing than usual: If an infection is building up in the lungs and mucus is accumulating in that area, breathing will tend to be quicker and heavier. It is a sign of respiratory fatigue that could lead to much worst symptoms. It could be accompanied by retractions (you will see skin being pulled between the ribs or nostrils flaring) Please go to the emergency if that occurs.

 Breathing pauses

Pausing in breathing that lasts longer than 10 seconds should be considered possibly harmful as it is a sign of extreme fatigue. Consult your emergency department.

 Husky cry or hoarse throat:

If you baby coughs in a weird hoarse sound it may be a sign of infection of blockage in the windpipe (larynx). You may consult your pediatrician if that appears.

Stridor or high-pitched sound when the baby inhales:

This squeaky sound can be heard lightly in the first couple of month as the babies windpipes are stabilizing. However, this should be associated with any type of coughing or choking events when feeding. If it does, please consult your pediatrician.

 If any of those symptoms appear in a mild form, keep a close eye on your baby and be on the alert for these other signs:

 -        Decreased number of breastfeeding sessions

-        Decreased appetite

-        Difficulty sleeping or sleeping much more than usual or being difficult to wake up

-        Any signs of fever (38.0 Rectal)

-        Irritability

If any of those signs appear on top of any other changes in breathing, consult a pediatrician or your emergency department.

On a lighter note, babies may also have more hiccups and sneezing than an adult or older child. This is completely normal and will go away in time.

Hiccups :

Just know that swallowing air during feed added to the immaturity of the diaphragm (muscle at the bottom of the lungs) will cause babies to have more hiccups. The best way to make it go away is by offering the breast or the bottle. It could also be a sign of reflux. This symptom will go away as the baby grows older.

Sneezing :

It is so darn cute to see a baby sneeze. They sneeze with their entire body! Like I explained earlier, babies breathe through their noses. The little hairs that filters air particles are immature and the nasal passage are very tiny which causes your baby to sneeze more as a way to protect his lungs and clear the passage for air to come in.

Jordan Stansbury