When you first hear baby’s heart beat, you’ll inevitably have two thoughts: Wow, that’s incredible and is that normal? Once baby is in the world, your thinking will shift towards baby breathing patterns. You’ll wonder: Why is my baby breathing so fast? And what kind of noise is THAT?!
What’s a Normal Newborn Respiration Rate?
Research shows that by the time your baby is six weeks in the womb, his or her heart is beating 120 to 160 times per minute, which is about twice as fast as the average adult’s heart rate. The same goes for newborn breathing—you can count on it being quicker than your breath rate. A normal newborn respiration rate is at least two times faster than an adults.
“Newborns typically have a slightly faster respiratory rate than older infants and 40 to 50 breaths per minute can be normal in the absence of other signs or symptoms of illness,” — Eboni Hollier, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician
That’s pretty quick considering the average adult or older child at rest takes about 12 to 20 breaths per minute!
Like adults, your baby’s breathing will slow down while resting. Expect baby to breathe about 20 to 40 times per minute when they are asleep.
Why Do Babies Breathe So Fast?
Hollier says babies, especially newborns, breathe faster than adults because their lungs almost completely fill their chest cavity.
“As they grow, their chest cavity also grows, and this increased space allows for some reserve of air to stay in the lungs between breaths.”
This results in a slower respiratory rate as the baby gets older. Eventually baby will be breathing just like mom and dad.
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Baby Breathing Patterns and Sounds While Awake
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about all those odd sounds your little one produces. In addition to baby breathing fast, it’s common for baby to make raspy, snorting, grunting or whistling noises.
To new parents, these noises can be unsettling, but think about your own breathing patterns. You probably don’t even realize it, but adults make all kinds of weird noises too! Baby breathing patterns are just as varied as your own—they’ll make different sounds, depending on their mood. A happy baby is going to make different sounds than a crying baby.
Baby Breathing Patterns and Sounds While Sleeping
Also surprising? If you thought your partner’s snoring was as bad as it gets, then just wait until you hear the many noises that come out of your baby when he or she sleeps. ?
“The sounds a baby makes while sleeping can vary widely,” Hollier says, adding that normal sounds can include gurgling, whistling, grunting or a soft snore. “Some babies are very quiet and still during sleep, while others may be noisy and more active.”
One of the reasons your newborn is a loud sleeper is because they breathe through their nose, which affects the kind of sounds they make while snoozing. This is important when it comes to breast- or bottle-feeding, because it allows babies to eat and breathe at the same time.
But those tiny noses make for even smaller air passages, which results in a lot of different noises, including raspy sounds and excess sneezing.
Try to remember that just as adults make noises in their sleep (snoring, babbling, talking, whistling, and even grunting), so do babies.
If your baby’s breathing while sleeping still seems off, it’s worth monitoring. Some babies, particularly preterm or underweight babies, may have some form of sleep apnea. As much as 84 percent of babies weighing less than 2.2 pounds have sleep apnea and about 25 percent of babies weighing less than 5 percent have sleep apnea. It’s rare in full-term babies, though these conditions may increase the likelihood of sleep apnea:
- Acid reflux
- Lung disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Neurological problems
- Small upper airway
What to Do If Baby Has Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea generally presents in the first few days of life, usually within a week. Although sleep apnea has not be identified as a cause of SIDS, it can be serious and even life-threatening.
If it seems like your baby has stopped breathing while sleeping, try touching him/her to see if he/she responds. If there is no response, then your little one may be experiencing sleep apnea, and you’ll need to respond immediately. According to BabySlumber.com, you should begin infant CPR while another person calls 911. If you are by yourself, then perform infant CPR for two minutes, then call for help. Continue CPR until the paramedics arrive.
As always, if you are concerned about your baby’s breathing, call a healthcare provider immediately.
When to Worry About Baby Breathing Patterns
If baby is otherwise well, you probably don’t have to worry about your newborn’s respiratory rate too much, says Hollier.
In general, if your newborn is less than two months of age, look for red flags like a respiratory rate that is faster than 60 breaths per minute.
These are indications that your baby may be having respiratory distress:
- baby’s breathing seems unusually fast for prolonged periods of time
- baby is working hard to breathe including his or her nose flaring, seeing the muscles between the ribs contract more than typical
- baby is grunting at the end of each breath
- baby is limp, pale, or blue
- baby is having coughing fits
- baby has a hoarse cry or barking cough, which could indicate either croup or be a sign of windpipe blockage
- baby is wheezing, which could indicate bronchiolitis or asthma
- baby has a fever of over 100.4 rectally
- baby isn’t eating or sleeping as a result of labored breathing
If you are ever worried about your baby’s breathing or notice any of the above signs of respiratory difficulty, call your pediatrician immediately for further advice.
A Note About Baby Breathing Monitors
Baby breathing monitors, like the Owlet Smart Sock and Baby Monitor or Sproutling, are increasing in popularity, but many experts and healthcare organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) caution against these devices.
In 2011 the WHO cited all radio frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by wireless communication devices as a possible cause of cancer.
Because baby breathing monitors rely on EMF to work, the use of these devices may put baby at unnecessary risk of exposure. Dr. Magda Harvas, an Associate Professor of Environmental & Resource Studies, says wearable baby monitors that use Bluetooth are especially harmful, because the transmitter is placed right against the body.
The AAP also cautions against using the monitors as a method for preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), given that research has not shown a clear link between apnea—when a baby’s breathing stops briefly—and SIDS. “Even full-term newborns in the first few weeks of life may have brief periods of apnea,” the AAP noted. “But this is not linked to SIDS.”
The point being that most babies don’t need sleep monitors, Adrienne Lafrance wrote in a 2016 article for The Atlantic.
“For the babies who truly need constant monitoring of vital signs, several doctors told me, a medical team should be coordinating their care—very often in a hospital setting,” Lafrance wrote. “Giving parents the false sense of security that an unproven device will somehow keep their baby safe isn’t just a waste of money, doctors say, it also trains them to focus on the wrong things as parents.”
If you do want to use a baby monitor, the safest option is to wire an intercom through your home’s electrical system.
Analog monitors that use the FM radio band, usually 40 Mhz are considered to be safer than digital monitors that transmit via Bluetooth, WiFi -2.4 Ghz or DECT. — Dr. Magda Havas
Your Baby’s Breathing Is Usually Normal
Those first few weeks with baby can be scary. It’s natural to analyze every move and every sound baby makes—after all, you just want him/her to be healthy. But the good news is that most of the time those funny noises baby’s making are totally normal. Babies breathe faster than adults do and it’s unusual for healthy, full-term babies to have breathing problems. Try to relax and have faith—and keep baby close… those extra snuggles will do you both good.
As always, if you have any concerns about your baby’s breathing, call your pediatrician immediately.
How About You?
What are some weird noises your little one made as a newborn? What worried you most?