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.

Breathing Problems in Babies. What to look out for and What to do when your baby has breathing problems. A gret article written by a pediatric doctor

Baby Breathing

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 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.

Signs of breathing problems include babies breathing more quickly than normal. The muscles that they 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. 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). 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
  • Nostrils flaring (like an angry bull)
  • Head bobbing up and down as they breath
  • 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.

Go to the doctor if you are worried about your child's breathing.

Breathing Problems in Babies. What to look out for and What to do when your baby has breathing problems. A gret article written by a pediatric doctor

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, you should seek medical advice. 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).

See Also:

Noisy Breathing in Children and Babies

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.