How Can You Tell If Your Baby Is Having Trouble Breathing?

Baby Vitality: How can you tell if your baby is having trouble breathing?

If there’s one thing we know all parents worry about, it’s baby breathing. We do everything we can to ensure that this tiny being in our care thrives, but it can all come unstuck in just a couple of minutes. One way to help is to educate yourself about signs of distress. Today, we’re going to look into how you can tell if your baby is having trouble breathing.

What is a normal infant respiratory rate?

Respiratory rate is the frequency with which a human breathes. Normal breathing for a baby — newborn to 12 months — is between 30 - 60 breaths a minute, and between 20 - 40 breaths per minute while sleeping. Contrast that with a normal adult rate, which is 12 - 16 breaths a minute and you will see that babies breathe a lot more quickly than adults. 

What does breathing distress look like?

As with so many things to do with babies, anything outside of the normal range is considered problematic. Fast breathing — more than 60 breaths per minute — can indicate a whole host of problems, from bronchiolitis to interstitial lung disease. 

Then there’s any other kind of unusual breathing, from slow or irregular to loud breathing or chest retractions. Breathing distress can come on quickly in infants and should be dealt with as an emergency.

How to check your baby’s breathing rate?

When your baby is calm and resting but not asleep, lay your hand on their chest so you can feel it rise and fall. Use a timer, and count every rise over the course of 60 seconds. That will be your baby’s breathing rate. 

What are some common respiratory illnesses in babies?

Respiratory illnesses in babies can have a very sudden onset. Their immune systems are not as sturdy as ours, and if an infection makes an appearance, it can become serious quite quickly. 

Babies can get everything from bronchiolitis (a lung infection in babies under two years old) and pneumonia (a complication arising from a cold, flu or bronchiolitis) to asthma. Some symptoms to be aware of are sneezing, wheezing, coughing, runny nose, fast breathing, loss of appetite, and a slight fever. You should also look out for chest retractions, changes in skin colour to a blueish appearance, wheezing, flaring nostrils, and grunting on exhalation. Any of these, individually or in conjunction, could indicate a more serious issue.

Remember, if you are in the slightest bit concerned, phone your doctor or healthcare practitioner and ask if you should bring them in. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


It is important to know what your baby’s normal respiratory rate is — both while awake and while sleeping — so that you know what it looks like when it is unusual. That said, keeping an eye out for any changes or any of the symptoms listed, should also help you to keep your baby safe and get them the help they need, should they ever need it.


  1. What You Should Know About Your Baby’s Respiratory Rate:

  2. What to know about newborn respiratory rates:

  3. Signs of Respiratory Distress in Your Infant:



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