Normal Newborn Breathing Patterns

If you've noticed your newborn breathing a bit irregularly, you may wonder if everything is normal with your child. But it's important to remember that newborns have distinct breathing patterns. What may seem unusual or alarming to you could actually be perfectly normal for your newborn. Here are some things that you need to know about newborn breathing.

Noisy Breathing Pattern

Mom, baby and nurse

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Don't be at all surprised if your child seems to be a noisy breather. Infants can only breathe through their noses in the first couple of months of life, which can cause them to make all sorts of sounds—from snorts and grunts to gurgles and whistles—as they inhale and exhale.

This noisy breathing shouldn't necessarily cause concern. However, pay attention to signs of respiratory distress. Contact your baby's doctor right away if you notice any warning signs.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Call your baby's doctor, or even 911, if you notice any of these warning signs and symptoms.

  • Turns blue all over or in areas that typically get a lot of blood flow like the lips, tongue, and the vagina. Even though bluing of the hands and feet can be fairly common due to an infant's immature circulatory system, if other areas are turning blue, it's time to get immediate attention.
  • Has a significantly increased breathing rate, which is more than 60 breaths per minute
  • Struggles to breathe, which can be spotted by the nostrils persistently flaring and the chest retracting unusually
  • Is feeding poorly or has no interest in eating
  • Is lethargic or excessively sleepy

Baby Sneezes Frequently

Some parents bring their baby home, witness them sneezing frequently, and jump to the conclusion that their baby must have an allergy to the family pet. Even after sending their family pet packing, the parents may soon find there is no change in their baby's frequent sneezes.

Breathing entirely through the nose means all air particles that enter the body land there. Because babies' nasal passages are so very tiny, they are prone to sneeze frequently to clear these substances out.

Sneezing is simply a sign that the body is working as it's supposed to.

When frequent sneezes are present with other issues like vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, and colic, it could mean that your baby is allergic to the formula you're feeding them. Discuss this concern with your pediatrician, who may recommend you use a hypoallergenic formula.

Periodic Breathing

When your baby's asleep, you'll notice them go through what is known as periodic breathing. At times their breathing rate may be rapid, followed by periods of shallow breaths. There may even be brief pauses where your baby doesn't seem to breathe at all for a few seconds.

This periodic breathing pattern is usually perfectly normal and part of typical newborn development. Your baby should grow out of this as they age.

When to Call the Doctor

If your baby shows any of the following signs, there may be something more than periodic breathing going on and you should consult your pediatrician.

  • Breathing pauses lasting longer than 10 seconds
  • Grunting while breathing
  • Coughing or wheezing that is persistent
  • Breathing that is deeper and causes the ribs to protrude

False "First Cold"

It really is not unusual for your baby to seemingly have their "first cold" early on. Again, this goes back to how tiny the nose is and how prone it is to get clogged with lint, fuzz, spit up, and other gunk. It probably bothers you more than it does your baby, and there may be no need to "help" them clear things out.

Sometimes the best approach is to simply let your baby's nose be.

However, if you strongly feel that your child needs assistance to breathe clearly, you may consider keeping the nursery free of dust and pet hair, using saline drops, and if absolutely necessary, trying a nasal aspirator. But talk to your pediatrician first.

If your baby is displaying additional symptoms along with a stuffy nose, they may indeed be experiencing their first cold and should be seen by your pediatrician. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased irritability

Baby Hiccups

Hiccups are another common experience for newborns that can be persistent. In fact, many moms may even feel their baby having hiccups in the womb. Swallowing air while feeding and experiencing a sudden change in stomach temperature are both common reasons for baby hiccups. But there's no need to worry. They will pass in their own time.

Sometimes hiccups are a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), where the contents of a baby's stomach regularly come up into the esophagus.

GER is especially common in premature babies and is usually outgrown as their stomachs stretch and can hold more food. That said, if your baby is showing signs of persistent GER, such as poor weight gain, extreme irritability, and consistent coughing, it's time to pay a visit to your pediatrician.

A Word From Verywell

While it's completely normal for your baby to have noisy breathing habits, hiccups, and even a stuffy nose, it's still important to pay attention to your baby's breathing. Familiarize yourself with your baby's breathing habits and what seems normal for them, but don't hesitate to ask your baby's doctor if what you're witnessing is normal. Eventually, you will know what is normal and what isn't and can pick up on any issues that may crop up.

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Article Sources
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  1. Reuter S, Moser C, Baack M. Respiratory distress in the newbornPediatr Rev. 2014;35(10):417–429. doi:10.1542/pir.35-10-417

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Is your newborn baby’s immune system strong enough? November 24, 2017.

  3. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of GER & GERD in infants. Updated April 2015.