Because newborns have developing lungs and weaker muscles, their typical breathing pattern may appear fast. Heavy breathing, coughing, and whistling sounds may be signs of a breathing problem.

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You might notice your newborn breathing fast, even while sleeping. Babies can also take long pauses between each breath or make noises while breathing.

Most of these come down to a baby’s physiology. Babies have smaller lungs, weaker muscles, and breathe mostly through their noses. As newborns, babies are just learning to breathe, since the umbilical cord delivered all of their oxygen straight to their body by way of their blood while in the womb.

A child’s lungs are not fully developed until they are around 8 years old.

Newborns breathe a lot faster than older babies, kids, and adults. They may initially breathe irregularly before developing a regular breathing pattern.

Newborns younger than 6 months take about 40-60 breaths per minute. That looks pretty fast if you’re watching them.

Breathing may slow down to 30 breaths per minute while newborns sleep. In periodic breathing, a newborn’s breathing may stop for 5 to 10 seconds and then begin again more rapidly — around 40 to 60 breaths per minute — for 10 to 15 seconds. They shouldn’t pause more than 10 seconds between breaths, even when resting.

Familiarize yourself with your newborn’s typical breathing pattern while they’re healthy and relaxed. This can help you notice if things ever change.

Fast breathing by itself may not be a cause for concern, but there are a few things to pay attention to. Once you have a sense of your newborn’s usual breathing pattern, you can watch closely for signs of change.

A sick newborn will look and act differently than they usually do. But it can be difficult to know what’s typical when you’ve only known your baby for a few weeks. Over time, as you get to know your baby better, your confidence may grow.

You can call a doctor whenever you have questions or concerns. Most offices have an on-call nurse who can offer tips and guidance.

Call a doctor or go for a walk-in appointment for any of the following:

  • trouble sleeping or eating
  • extreme fussiness
  • deep cough
  • barking cough
  • fever above 100.4°F or 38°C (seek immediate care if your baby is under 3 months)

If your newborn has any of the following signs, seek immediate care:

  • trouble catching their breath
  • breathing faster than 60 breaths per minute
  • grunting at the end of each breath
  • nostrils flaring
  • breathing with difficulty, such as the muscles pulling in under the ribs or around the neck
  • blue or grayish tinge to the skin, especially around the mouth, head, and central body
  • trouble crying
  • dehydration from lack of eating

Recognizing an emergency

If a newborn is having significant difficulty breathing or has a blue or gray tinge to the skin, you should seek emergency medical care by calling 911 or your local emergency services.

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Newborns may experience breathing difficulties due to a heart condition, infection, or another health condition.

Newborn breathing problems can include:

  • deep cough, which may be a sign of mucus or infection in the lungs
  • whistling noise or snoring, which may require suctioning mucus from the nose
  • barking and hoarse cry that could indicate croup
  • fast, heavy breathing which could potentially be fluid in the airways from pneumonia or transient tachypnea
  • wheezing which could stem from bronchiolitis
  • persistent dry cough, which may signal an allergy
  • when a newborn stops breathing for at least 20 seconds, which can be a sign of apnea

Premature newborns may have underdeveloped lungs and be more likely to have problems breathing.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), newborns delivered before 32 weeks of pregnancy may develop neonatal respiratory distress syndrome.

Full-term babies delivered by cesarean are at increased risk for other breathing issues right after birth, such as transient tachypnea of the newborn. This condition typically resolves within 3 days after birth, the NHLBI notes.

If your newborn has been diagnosed with either condition, a doctor can discuss what signs you need to monitor.

Remember that coughing is a natural reflex that protects your baby’s airways and keeps germs out. If you’re concerned about your newborn’s breathing, monitor them over a few hours. You’ll soon be able to tell if it’s a mild cold or something more serious.

If your newborn is sick, you may want to contact a doctor. It can be difficult to tell how sick a newborn is.

Take a video of any worrisome behavior to show a doctor. You may be able to communicate with a doctor or pediatrician online or through an app for faster communication.

In a medical emergency, you should call 911 or your local emergency services or take your newborn to the nearest emergency room.

If a doctor advises home care for a mild cold, the follow tips may help:

  • keep them hydrated
  • use saline drops to help clear mucus
  • prepare a warm bath or run a hot shower and sit in the steamy bathroom
  • play calming music
  • rock your baby in their favorite position
  • ensure your baby gets enough sleep

If your newborn does not improve or their condition worsens, contact a doctor.

You should not use vapor rub as a treatment for children younger than age 2.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends putting babies to sleep flat on their backs for the best breathing support.

It might be difficult to settle your baby down on their back when they’re sick, but it remains the safest sleeping position.


Any irregular breathing in your child can be very alarming. Watch your baby and learn about their typical behavior so that you can act quickly if you notice that they’re having trouble breathing.

If you have concerns about your newborn’s breathing, it may be best to contact a doctor or visit an immediate care facility or emergency room, depending on the severity.