Breathing Problems in Babies

Breathing problems in babies or children are not uncommon, especially in the winter months. Normally they are mild but they can be dangerous. If you are seriously concerned, call an ambulance. Breathing problems are an important aspect of your kids health and it is important to know what to look out for.

A crying baby being comforted by their parent. No visible signs of breathing problems. #baby #unwellchild #breathingproblems #newborn #baby #neonate #parenting #sickchild

Normal Baby Breathing (No Respiratory Distress)

Babies breathe much more quickly than adults.

If your baby is between birth and 6 months old, the normal rate is 30-60 breaths per minute.

Above 6 months old it is 24-30 breaths per minute.

Normally a baby’s breathing is quiet and comfortable. You may hear little snuffly sounds as they stir, but there should not be much noise.

Normally a baby is a nice pink colour.

Signs of Breathing Problems and Respiratory Distress in Babies

If your child has breathing problems, it can be really scary, especially as breathing problems in children manifest in a very different way to adults.

Increased Respiratory Rate

When babies are struggling to breath, they respiratory rate goes up which means they breath even more quickly than normal.

Respiratory Recession in Babies

The muscles that babies use to breath are much more pliable than those of adults. This means that when they have breathing problems, you can see all these muscles moving more than normal.

Subcostal Recession, Intercostal Recession and Tracheal Tug

You may see the muscles under the ribs sucking in (subcostal recession) or the muscles in between the ribs sucking in (intercostal recession) or the notch at the bottom of your neck sucking in (tracheal tug).

Head Bobbing and Nasal Flare

Very small babies may also present with their nostrils flaring or their head bobbing backwards and forwards as they breath.

• Breathing too fast.

• Muscles going in and out more than normal (respiratory recession and tracheal tug).

• Nostrils flaring like an angry bull (nasal flare).

• Head bobbing up and down as they breath (head bobbing).

• Pursed lips as they breath out.

Check out the video of my 18 month old son with mild respiratory distress. It's at the bottom of the page.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Breathing problems in babies are scary and I urge you to seek medical advice promptly.

You must seek advice if:

  • Your baby is struggling to feed
  • Isn’t their normal pink and rosy colour
  • Is blue anywhere (especially around the lips)

Related: How to Reduce Your Baby’s Risk of SIDS

A newborn baby lying on a bed so that parents can examine his chest and look for breathing problems. #baby #unwellchild #breathingproblems #newborn #baby #neonate #parenting #sickchild

Respiratory Distress in Newborn

Small babies can get unwell even if they only have what in an adult is a mild cold. Your doctor will assess the degree of the respiratory distress, which may be mild, moderate or severe.

If your child is not getting enough oxygen into their body, they will need to be admitted to hospital.

Baby Breathing Problems and Feeding

Breathing problems can also affect a baby’s feeding. Even a blocked nose in a small baby can make it difficult to feed.

Saline drops are available from chemists that you squirt up their nose to dissolve the snot.

Some people use a drop of eucalyptus oil on a blanket near the baby to help unblock a nose (don’t put it on their skin.)

If your baby is finding it difficult to feed (either breastfeeding or with a bottle) you should seek medical advice.

Related: 9 Natural Ways to Ward Off Colds and Protect Your Kids from Infection.

What Can Health Professionals do to Help My Baby?

If they have to go to hospital, they may need to have a tube from their nose to their stomach (a naso-gastric tube) to help them feed. Sometimes they have to have fluid into their veins (intravenous fluids).

 A baby's feet being helo by a worried mother. #baby #unwellchild #breathingproblems #newborn #baby #neonate #parenting #sickchild

See Also:

Noisy Breathing in Children and Babies

Vomiting in Babies

Babies and Colds

Video of Child With Mild Respiratory Distress

Breathing Problems


Signs of respiratory distress:

  • Breathing too quickly.
  • Sucking in of muscles (between ribs, under ribs and at bottom of neck).
  • Flaring of nostrils.
  • Head bobbing.
  • Difficulty feeding.


  • Barking seal cough.
  • Generally noisy when breathing in (rather than out).
  • Treated with steroids.

Whooping cough:

  • Noise like a ‘whoop’.
  • Cough lasts a long time.
  • Avoidable with vaccination.

If you are concerned about a child’s breathing, go to the GP or call an ambulance.