Understanding Baby Breathing Patterns: Is Fast Breathing Normal and Exploring Causes of Wheezing in Infants

baby-breathing-patterns

In the grand adventure of becoming new parents, having a new baby is the most joyous and stressful time in our lives. It’s truly fantastic to love someone so much and create your own small family with its own traditions. Mothers and Fathers will watch their tiny ones with excitement and fear as they take every breath. In these early days, every breath, sound or tiny move a baby makes is observed, is confusing and can also create a fair amount of confusion. When should one worry and when is something normal?

While a baby’s breathing is like a comforting song, many parents will wonder if everything is really okay, especially when it comes to how fast the baby is breathing. We put this article together to help you better understand why babies breathe the way they do so you can start worrying less. Many make wheezing sounds as the baby’s sleep patterns start to change. This article gives some clues for why babies breathe how they do and explores potential causes of wheezing sounds in their breathing. We’re here to give clear, simple answers for parents who want to make sure their little ones are happy and healthy. For any immediate assistance, please contact your local healthcare provider.

What is considered a normal breathing pattern in newborns? 

Babies, especially newborns, express breathing patterns that can be different from older children and adults. Understanding what is normal is key for parents to be able to understand the difference between typical breathing behaviours and potential signs of respiratory issues. Newborns’ breaths come more frequently than in adults and even children. A regular breathing rate for a newborn is about 40 to 60 breaths each minute, which generally decreases to 30 to 40 breaths each minute while asleep.

In addition to their faster breathing, the breathing pattern of a newborn might also include brief pauses lasting less than 10 seconds. It’s good for parents to know about this so they are not panicking when they suddenly notice these pauses. This phenomenon, known as periodic breathing, is considered normal. During periodic breathing a baby may breathe rapidly for a short time, then quickly rest before resuming normal breathing. It’s important to note that newborns primarily use their diaphragm, the large muscle below the lungs, for breathing.

Several things contribute to why newborns breathe quickly:

  1. Developmental Stage:
  2. Newborn babies have much smaller lungs and their muscles are still developing so they are much weaker pushing for every breath. 

  3. Practising Breathing: 
  4. When babies are still in the womb, they receive their oxygen from the umbilical cord and therefore have to make no effort from their end. After they are born, they have to learn the breathing process and practise it continuously. They may breathe slower and faster as they figure out this process.

  5. Physiology:
  6. Just like every adult has a different physiology, so does every baby and some may just naturally breathe faster than others.

    It is completely normal if as a parent you hear your baby wheezing and start to panic. As adults we are certainly told that’s not normal so why would we think otherwise? You may hear your little one making a high-pitched whistling sound, this is the wheezing sound to look out for and simply happens because the baby’s airways are little and narrow just like them. Here are a few more reasons why you might be hearing them wheezing:

  7. Respiratory Infections:
  8. Breathing infections are caused by Common viruses, like RSV or the common cold, can make the airways inflamed and cause wheezing.

  9. Asthma:
  10. This is rare in babies, but asthma can make them wheeze. Please contact your paediatrician if you notice this often.

  11. Allergies:
  12. Everyone loves a nice dog or cat in their home but sadly pet dander can be a large cause for allergies. In addition, dust mites, or pollen can trigger allergies as well.

  13. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD):
  14. This is when stomach acid can flow back into the oesophagus, irritating the airways and causing wheezing.

  15. Structural Anomalies:
  16. Some babies are born with structural issues in their airways or lungs. This may require medical intervention or a procedure.

When should a new parent seek medical attention?

We understand the stress a new parent feels beyond just their breathing concerns which makes everything extremely overwhelming. Don’t worry, just stay alert! Even though fast breathing alone may not be a cause for concern, certain signs and symptoms should prompt parents to seek medical attention for their infants. Below we have listed a few that we know every parent should keep an eye out for:

  1. Persistent Wheezing:
  2. If wheezing doesn’t go away or gets worse, it’s important to see a doctor.

  3. Difficulty Breathing:
  4. If a baby looks like they’re having trouble breathing, like pulling in their chest muscles or flaring nostrils, they should be seen by a doctor.

  5. Change in Colour:
  6. If a baby’s skin turns bluish or greyish, especially around the mouth, head, or central body, it means they might not be getting enough oxygen. This needs immediate medical attention.

  7. Fever:
  8. If a baby under three months old has a fever above 100.4°F or 38°C, it’s important to see a doctor.

  9. Dehydration:
  10. Nobody feels good when they are dehydrated! If a baby is having trouble breastfeeding or bottle feeding or is just not getting enough fluids, they may start showing signs of dehydration. This requires a doctor’s immediate attention.

Fast breathing in newborns is often a normal part of their developmental stage and is linked to factors like – smaller lungs and the learning process of independent breathing. However, wheezing in infants does require our attention, as it can indicate other underlying respiratory issues. Understanding the difference between normal breathing patterns and potential signs of illness or disease will keep you happier as a parent and more proactive with your little one’s health.

Parents should familiarise themselves with their newborn’s typical breathing pattern during moments of health and relaxation. This awareness enables them to recognize deviations and seek timely medical advice when necessary. Remember parents, although some causes of wheezing in infants are benign and not a cause of concern, others require medical intervention to ensure the well-being of the child. Regular check-ups and open communication with healthcare providers contribute to proactive management and early detection of respiratory issues in infants.

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