The Common Breathing Sounds of a Newborn

Sleeping baby with hat
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Newborn breathing has a distinct set of sounds and patterns. You'll need to become familiar with these sounds before you bring your newborn home. As a new parent, you want to be able to tell the difference between normal newborn breathing sounds and those that mean you need to call your pediatrician.

Get to Know Your Newborn's Breathing

One of the best (and easiest) things that you can do is simply spend time with your baby and quietly listen to them breathe. Whether they are awake or asleep, make note of the different noises that they make.

Your baby's breathing sounds can vary depending on what they are doing, such as eating, sleeping, or just being quietly awake. Getting to know those different sounds can save you from mistakenly becoming convinced that something is wrong.

If you have a hospital birth, rooming-in can be advantageous when it comes to learning more about your new baby. If you have questions, a nurse will be readily available to help.

Make Note of Sounds and Motions

Babies are natural nose-breathers rather than mouth-breathers. This allows them to breathe and eat at the same time. Newborns will usually breathe exclusively through their nose until about 6 months. By their first birthday, they'll breathe more through their mouth.

You'll experience a full range of whistling, gurgling, and snorting sounds as your baby's tiny nasal passages take in air.

As you are getting acquainted with your new bundle of joy, notice the following sounds your baby makes throughout the day.

  • General sounds and noises your baby makes as they breathe
  • How much your baby's nostrils flare as they breathe
  • How your baby's breathing changes when they change position 
  • How your baby's sneezes sound (newborns sneeze frequently and it's not usually a cause for concern)
  • Sounds that are unique to when your baby feeds from the breast versus the bottle
  • The rhythm of your baby's chest rising and falling

Adults breathe between 18 and 20 times per minute. Since newborns have much smaller lungs, they need to breathe more often. A newborn takes between 40 and 60 times each minute.

Normal Breathing Noises

After some time observing your baby, you'll begin to see that they make lots of different noises—most of which are perfectly normal and not a cause for alarm.

Some common baby sounds you might hear include:

  • Gurgling (caused by saliva pooling at the back of the mouth)
  • Hiccups (babies are prone to hiccups, which often begin while they are still in the womb)
  • Snorts (especially when your newborn is in deep sleep)
  • Whistling (a newborn's nasal passage is narrow, so you'll often hear whistling as they draw in a breath)

Periodic Breathing and Newborns

Another normal breathing pattern in newborns is called periodic breathing. You'll notice this marked pattern when your baby is asleep.

When they sleep, babies cycle through rapid breathing, shallow breathing, and short pauses that last between five and 10 seconds.

While it might seem unusual to you, this breathing trend is nothing to be concerned about. It does not affect your baby's coloring or heart rate.

When to Call the Doctor

When you are able to recognize your baby's normal breathing pattern, you will also be able to detect any abnormalities. If you have any concerns or if your baby does not seem to be breathing normally, do not hesitate to call your pediatrician.

There are certain signs or symptoms you can keep an eye out for that could indicate a problem. Call your pediatrician if your baby has any of the following symptoms.

  • Persistent cough or wheezing (including a high-pitched barking cough, which may be a sign of croup)
  • Elevated temperature or high fever
  • Cold-like symptoms or other signs of illness (listlessness, gastrointestinal issues, etc.)
  • Deeper breathing that causes a significant rise or fall above and below the rib cage (your baby's ribs will stick out)
  • Distinct flaring of the nose
  • Grunting while breathing (particularly at the end of a breath)

There are some symptoms that require immediate emergency care. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if:

  • Your baby stops breathing or the pauses in breathing last longer than 10 seconds.
  • Your baby is limp or difficult to arouse.
  • Your baby turns blue. Your baby's skin might appear blue when they are cold but they should turn pink again after warming up. If they don't, seek medical care right away.

A Word From Verywell

Observing your baby's breathing patterns can help you learn to tell the difference between normal baby noises and those that could be indicate something isn't right. Once you know what's normal for your baby (and what isn't) you'll be able to take a deep breath yourself.

After you bring them home from the hospital, you'll get to enjoy all of your baby's unique (often funny) sounds. While you don't want to panic, just stay alert for any changes to your baby's typical breathing pattern.

Don't hesitate to call your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns. If your baby gets sick, becomes difficult to arouse, or has other signs of serious illness, don't delay in seeking emergency medical care.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Reuter S, Moser C, Baack M. Respiratory distress in the newborn. Pediatr Rev. 2014;35(10):417-28. doi:10.1542/pir.35-10-417

  2. Howes D. Hiccups: a new explanation for the mysterious reflex. Bioessays. 2012;34(6):451-3. doi:10.1002/bies.201100194

  3. Mohr MA, Fairchild KD, Patel M, et al. Quantification of periodic breathing in premature infants. Physiol Meas. 2015;36(7):1415-27. doi:10.1088/0967-3334/36/7/1415

  4. Gallacher DJ, Hart K, Kotecha S. Common respiratory conditions of the newborn. Breathe (Sheff). 2016;12(1):30-42. doi:10.1183/20734735.000716

Additional Reading

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.