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, 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."

WebMD. "Your Newborn Baby's Breathing Noises"

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "What Might Breathing Problems Indicate in a Newborn?"

What to "Noisy Baby Breathing." "Your Baby's Breathing: What's Normal."

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Comments 23 comments

tracy elkins 8 years ago

my one year old son always has his tounge out and pants but he seems perfectly healthy should i be concerned?

Josh Dunlap 7 years ago

my son is almost 6 months old and this morning we awoke to him making a speratic fast breathing sound. It sounded like he had just stopped crying for a while and just couldn't catch his breath..but was sound asleep. When i woke him up it took about 10 min. for it to subside and was back to normal and has been the rest of the day. any comments will be appreciated.

PJ 6 years ago

Josh we just experienced the same thing with our 1-year-old. She woke up crying, and when we went to comfort her she was gasping for air. There has been no history of breathing problems of any sort. It sort of sounded like she was hyperventilating, and she is still not back to 100% 20 minutes later (but is sleeping soundly)

Elizabeth Stevens 6 years ago

My daughter was just born March 26, 2010. In fact today she turned 2 months! In the past 2 months she's quit breathing twice, but i rubbed her back and she took a breath. Ever since she was born, even to this day every time she breaths you can see it on her throat and her ribs, like she's gasping for air. The doctor's think she will out grow it. It doesn't seem normal to me. My son never sounded like that at all. It sounds as if she snores when she asleep. If you could hear her you would think she was struggling when she breaths. We go to the doctor this Friday. Do you think I should get a second opinon? Im desperate to find some answers. Thanks!

carol whitaker 6 years ago

My grandson was born in april. Since then he has had a real problems with feeding, crying and irritability, arching back, snoring and sounding dreadful when he was breathing.

Thankfully a peadatrician saw him when he was 6 weeks old and said he had got "Sielnt reflux" put him on ritadine (anti acid) diormphdine ( medication that breaks down the food). and changed is milk which is prescription based but can't remember what they call it.

A week ago his breathing got worse and it was taking an hour to give him 20z of milk.

We took him to the GP on thursday of this week at 6pm, by 6.10pm an ambulance was at the surgery with a resusitation team and we were rushed to the hospital.

The doctor administerd a steriod to help with breathing, gave him oxygen and for 24hours he has had his oxygen level measured.

He is still in hopsital and they have diagnosed his problem as querry "Congenital Laryngeal Stridor syndrome"

Aparently when a baby is born for some reason their laranx isn't formed properly and if they are not well, or pickup a virus the airway becomes inflamed and this then becomes a problem for them to breath and feed.

He will need an endoscopy (camera down his throat) to confirm this syndrome.

Weirdly the breathing diffculties start to get worse around 2months on ward.

The good news is that they do eventually get better but it can take up to 18months for the flaps on the laranx to form.

Any mother that is having similar problems with their babies, please insist they are refered to ENT specialist.

Annu 6 years ago

My 1 year old has some chest congestion one month back the doctor said that too much cough is congested that a nebulizer might be required...he asled me to give those medicine...ut to my surpirze he did't give cough syruo to him but an antihistamine. this month in Aug again he has same issue..we showed him to another doctor and that doctor said tht he is having son does't show any symptoms like that..some times i feel he has breathing difficulties...some times he coughs at night at other time he coughs after crying he really having astham?? the doctor said he is wheezing but its not necessarily be asthama...

Teal 6 years ago

All moms, if you think there is something wrong and your doctor says "ah there fine" don't stop, ask to be refere to another doctor. It saved my daughters life. I went to my daughters ped 7 times, being told I was over reacting. Finally I demanded him refer me so Sacramento, after 14 days there I again demanded to be transferred to Stanford. There they saved her life. You are your childs advocate. You no more about your child them your doctors.

kayla 5 years ago

My daughter is going to be 1 in a week.When she was 2 months old she was diagnosed with acid reflux. She was put on zantac and we were told that she would probably grow out of it by the time she was around 8 months old. Not only has she not grown out of it; her symptoms have gotten worse. On top of that for about a week now her breathing patterns have changed. She hyperventilates and acts as if she isn't getting enough oxygen. This happens at least 20 to 30 times a day now!Also randomly at night she starts to hyperventilate and panic scream cry like shes in pain but she is sleeping. She doesn't wake up during it at all and it lasts up to half an hour. We have been to the ER on mulutiple occasions and seen her pediatrician. Everytime we have either been told to wait it out or there is nothing that they can do. Every day it gets worse.. All we want is for our daughter to be happy and healthy and for a doctor to actually do something to help....

blake 5 years ago

My son in 3 months old and has been having problems breathing since he was 3 weeks he also has reflux. because his o2 count is 98-100% and hedoesnt have a feaver they keep telling me he is fine. they are treating us like this because we are having insurance problems. these problems started with Chester County hospital when he was born. they put the wrong date on one of the forms and this is causing his fathers name not to appear. Since his fathers name is not on the birth cirtificate. they will not add him to the insurance until his fathers name appears on the form. I can garunteee that if we had insurance he would be getting better treatment. I am at a loss as to what to do. we keep clearing his nose and he is still having a hard time. They tell us if he continues to have a problem breathing or continues to grunt after we clean him out that we should bring him to the er or dr right away well that's what we have been doing and they still don't do anything to help him. its pretty sad that these people don't wnt to help an infant.

samantha field 5 years ago

My 5 months old seems to be breathing fast at times then normal. Sometimes she sounds very chesty and nasaly but the doctors say they can't hear anything. Any ideas or suggestions plz??

Ashley Elliott 5 years ago

My son is almost three months old and while he was at daycare yesterday he tried to stop breathing and the daycare provider got ambulance on the way. When he got to hospital they had him stabalized, but was doing the breathing for him. He is now breathing on his own with no help. The doctors have no explanation as to why this happened. We asked to be sent home with some kind of breathing monitor so we could be a little more at ease but they say it isn't necessary. I dont understand how im supposed to sleep at night or concentrate at work with this always in the back of my mind. Please help!!

Harriet 5 years ago

My 6 month old keep breathing really hard & fast like he is hyperventilating, then he holds his breath for a second or 2 & starts to hyperventilate. He keeps doing this very regularly over the last few days & I'm just not sure what to do? The doctors always treat me like a panicy mother whenever I've taken him in to see them about other things & I don't Want to seem like I'm wasting their time. Does anybody think this is normal or would it be best to get him checked out?

Jenny 4 years ago

My year old son is beathing hard and fast we js came from the hospital at ten for having fever cough and running nose what do I do?

Dannelle 4 years ago

My son is almost 2. He has been sick for the past 3 weeks. It started out with a very bad cough and wheezing. That went away and now his nose is stuffy and has a continoues cough and is breathing really fast. it is at least 150 breaths per min. he just went to the doc monday. Any suggestions? Please help.

Jas 4 years ago

My daughter was born June 22, 2008. On July 10th at 1am she completely stopped breathing arched her back and started to turn blue, me and my husband were giving her rescue breathes and putting cold water on her trying to get her to breathe again. She was extremely aware of the situation staring at us with a look of "help", the doctors told us that some children have this happen. I have had multiple inncidents to where she coughs extremely hard or breathes exteremely fast and hard, and she breathes with her stomach? Idk I'm taking her to a children's specialist tomoro but I was wondering if anybody else has had anything similar

Jas 4 years ago

2011 excuse me. My other child's year of birth is 2008.

stephanie 4 years ago

my son is 6 months old and we have a breathing monitor which lays under his mattress as he sleeps it goes of if your baby stops breathing for more than 20 seconds.

nearly every night the alarm goes of and i have to run into his room and shake him he moves then goes back to sleep.i do not think this is normal!!

i have bought 3 different monitors now as i thought they may have been broke but oviously not. WHAT DO I DO?

Dayana 4 years ago

To the mom who was concerned about baby breathing at night. There is a monitor to check that baby is breathing and will alarm you if this happens, its called baby sense- i have that one and there is also angel care.

Steele 4 years ago

My son is 5 months old I notice one night he was having sleep apnea. I took him to urgent care she looked at him for 5 min and said hes fine take him home and put him to bed. I made an appointmen at the clinic and got him a montior the first hour it went off 26 times for hight heart rate and apnea The Doctor did not do anything but change the setteings to alarm if he does not breath for 30 sec. it goes off a couple time a night and i have to rub his chest for him to start breathing. He is going back to the doctor today but I am really worried.

Jenny 4 years ago

A month after my baby was born, i began to notice that he founds it difficult breathing. Nd he wheezs as if the moucus inside d nose wnts to come out. Whn i reported 2 d my doctor, he said he has snuffle tht i should give cough syrup. I tried it but to no avail. Sometimes he opens his eyes, helplessly looking for help. I tried giving mouth 2 mouth air, it seems as if he is soffocating. He feels relief whn evr i applys his metholator balm aroud his nose nd his chest. Its more obvious whn ever he is breastfeed, he rubs one part of his head nd crys, streching his body. Am so worried wht do i do?

Amber 3 years ago

my youngest daughter will be 2 next month and she is sleeping and she sounds like she is hyperventilating does anyone know what this could be or anything?

douglas oluchi 24 months ago

Douglas Oluchi :my son is one year plus now and he has been having hard and loud breathing since l gave birth to him.l have taken him to hospital for about 3 times and the doctors told me that he will over grow it,but the sound get louder everyday.lam so worried,what do l do

Ty 21 months ago

Get and demand antibiotics! Amoxicillin my 3rd baby don't leave without it

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