Fast breathing and other breath changes in baby sleep

Newborn Sleep Infant Sleep

It is so common for parents to get home from welcoming a new baby into the world, settle into a new home life and find themselves staring at their baby whilst they are sleeping, analysing every sound and movement.

As parents, we are designed to be hyperaware of our babies for good reason, however it is helpful to understand what is normal in regards to babies breathing during sleep, to minimise the 2am google searches (we have all been there)!

Why is my baby breathing fast while sleeping?

Babies are born with an immature respiratory system, and a characteristic of this can be periodic or irregular breathing. This can look like periods of breathing quickly, followed by a brief period of pause in breathing. This is our babies clever bodies working to maintain normal levels of carbon dioxide in their body.

Therefore, if you notice this pattern of breathing, please be reassured that this is a reassuring sign. It is significant to note that through this normal body process, there is no change in your baby’s colour. ^

My baby is making gasping sounds in sleep. Is everything okay?

Just like adults, our babies have sleep cycles consisting of active and quiet sleep. During periods of active sleep, babies may groan, open their eyes, cry out, move and breath noisily *.

This is normal behaviour throughout the different sleep cycles and through growth, babies will wake less between these cycles and they will become less apparent. 

My baby sleeps with their mouth open, but breathes through their nose. Is that normal?

For the first 4-6 months of a babies life, they breathe exclusively through their nose. This means it is important that they have clear nasal passages to best facilitate breathing and feeding. If you happen to notice that your baby is sleeping with an open mouth, make sure to assess for any signs of a blocked nose. Check out this blog for further information on blocked and runny noses in babies. 

If your baby is sleeping with their mouth open, but breathing through their nose and showing no other signs of respiratory distress, this is generally not of great concern, as this means their nasal passage is patent and clear. If you do however have concerns regarding this, it is best to seek individual medical advice from a trusted health professional. 

What to do if your baby stops breathing when sleeping

Although we have spoken about some common, normal breathing concerns for our little ones, if you notice any of the following symptoms or are concerned about your little one for any reason, please seek urgent medical assessment (calling 000). 

  • Persistent fast breathing
  • Reduced feeding 
  • Sucking in of the muscles around the ribs, throat, neck
  • High pitched sound when breathing in or out 
  • Persistent cough 
  • Not breathing for more than 10 seconds 
  • Colour change 

It is imperative to trust your instinct as parents, it is so strong for good reason. If you have a concern regarding your babies breathing or other, follow this and seek out further input from a trusted health professional. 

It is our aim at Rhythm First Aid to close the gap in knowledge when it comes to child and infant first aid and education. We hope that amongst the designing of beautiful nurseries, picking out gorgeous little onesies and choosing a baby bag (which is all so exciting!), that parents are increasingly thinking about equipping and empowering themselves with the knowledge of what is normal and abnormal when it comes to the health of our precious little beings. 

^ https://pch.health.wa.gov.au/For-health-professionals/Emergency-Department-Guidelines/Baby-common-presentations

* https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/typical-sleep-behaviour-nb-0-3-months

About the author
Nicole Gleeson is a paediatric emergency nurse and the founder of Rhythm First Aid. Nicole is on a mission to educate and empower our community. Working as an Emergency Nurse in a trauma centre, she has experienced first-hand the importance of well-developed first-aid knowledge and skills. Armed with experience, knowledge, and determination to improve outcomes for families and businesses, Rhythm First Aid was established with a vision to ensure quality and fun CPR and first aid training accessible for all.

Instagram: @rhythm.firstaid

Website: rhythmfirstaid.com.au

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