Infant Respiratory Rate: A Simple Assessment


What do you know about infant respiratory rates? An infant respiratory rate is the frequency a baby breaths and is easy to check from home. If the infant respiratory rate is abnormal, it could mean your baby is having breathing problems.

Checking your infant’s respiratory rate

Checking your infant’s respiratory rate is simple enough for anyone to do at home. Sit where you can see or hear your baby breathing, making sure baby is resting calmly and comfortably (crying or fussiness will result in a faster respiratory rate). Then count the number of times your baby’s chest rises in 60 seconds – place a hand on his/her chest if needed – and you have your infant’s respiratory rate.

It’s important when checking your baby’s respiratory rate that you eliminate other factors that can skew the results. Babies who are fussy, overly warm, or have a fever will have a higher respiratory rate than normal.

For expert advice on how to check your baby’s vital signs, check here.

Normal respiratory rate for infants

Infant respiratory rates are measured in breaths per minute. A normal result for a calm, comfortable newborn baby is 30-60 breaths per minute. When sleeping, the newborn respiratory rate is typically a bit lower at 20-40 breaths per minute.

Infants and young children breath much more rapidly than older children and adults do, so comparing newborn respiratory rates to adults or older children would not be appropriate.

Translating newborn respiratory rate to signs of respiratory problems

An abnormal respiratory rate is a key indicator of respiratory distress for infants. How do you know if your baby’s breathing sounds normal? Signs of respiratory problems can be observed visually or audibly and include:

  • Wheezing – A high-pitched whistling sound upon exhale, this occurs when bronchial tubes narrow.
  • Changes in color – Cyanosis, or general blue coloring, could mean your baby is not getting enough oxygen.
  • Retracting – If baby is having trouble breathing in enough air, his chest will pull in at the ribs, above the collarbones, or below the breastbone.
  • Flaring nostrils – This is a sign that baby is trying to take in more air; the nostrils widen with each inhale.
  • Grunting – Babies will make a grunting, sighing, or moaning sound when exhaling if he/she is not getting enough oxygen.
  • Changes in breathing rate or irregular breathing pattern – If you hear your baby breathe quickly and then pause for less than 10 seconds, this is normal and is called periodic breathing. However, if she does not take a breath for longer than 15 seconds, it could mean your baby is experiencing sleep apnea. This is a common condition, yet sleep apnea can still be serious and should be followed up with a medical examination.

If you notice any of these signs when your baby is breathing, seek medical attention. By listening and observing your newborn baby, you are the first line of defense in rooting out any potential breathing problems. Proactive parenting can make a difference for your baby’s health.


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