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Newborn Breathing Sounds: What’s Normal and When to Be Concerned

What Does Newborn Breathing Usually Sound Like?

Generally, a newborn takes around 30 to 60 breaths in a minute.(1) During their sleep, babies typically have a breathing rate of around 30 to 40 breaths per minute.(2) As they reach six months of age, their breathing rate generally ranges from 25 to 40 breaths per minute. In comparison, adults typically take approximately 12 to 20 breaths per minute.(3)

Newborns often exhibit rapid breaths followed by brief pauses that can last up to 10 seconds, which can be quite different from the breathing patterns seen in adults. Consequently, these distinctive breathing patterns may cause alarm among new parents. However, it is important to note that most irregularities in newborn breathing tend to resolve on their own within a few months.

What Does Newborn Breathing Usually Sound Like?

While some breathing concerns, such as transient tachypnea, may be more common in the first few days after birth, after the age of 6 months, most breathing issues are likely related to allergies or temporary illnesses like the common cold.(4)

What Does the Various Breathing Sounds Mean? 

Becoming familiar with your baby’s typical breathing sounds and patterns is crucial. It allows you to identify any differences and provide accurate descriptions to your pediatrician if necessary.

Research from 2020 highlights that respiratory distress is among the primary reasons for neonatal intensive care hospital admittance.(5)

Here are some common sounds you might hear and their potential causes to be aware of:

  • Wheezing: Wheezing can indicate a blockage or narrowing in the lower airways. It may be caused by conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Hoarse Cry And Barking Cough: These noises may result from a blockage in the windpipe, possibly due to mucus or inflammation in the voice box (such as croup). If it worsens at night, it could be a sign of croup. Seek medical attention if needed.
  • Deep Cough: A deep cough often suggests a blockage in the larger bronchi. A doctor will need to listen with a stethoscope to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Whistling Noise: This sound may indicate a blockage in the nostrils, which can be cleared by gently suctioning mucus. Parents should consult their pediatrician for guidance on effective suctioning techniques.
  • Fast Breathing: Rapid breathing can signal the presence of fluid in the airways, potentially caused by infections like pneumonia. Evaluation by a healthcare professional is advised.
  • Snoring: Snoring is usually caused by mucus in the nostrils, but it can also indicate chronic conditions like sleep apnea or enlarged tonsils in rare cases.
  • Stridor: Stridor, a constant high-pitched sound, indicates airway obstruction. It may be associated with conditions like laryngomalacia.(6)
  • Grunting: A sudden, low-pitched noise during exhalation suggests lung issues or severe infection. Immediate medical attention is necessary if your baby is ill and grunting while breathing.
  • Frequent Sneezing: Sneezing is common in newborns and is typically not a cause for concern. However, if accompanied by other symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, or fever, consult a doctor to rule out respiratory infections.(7)
  • Periodic Breathing: Periodic breathing, characterized by pauses followed by clusters of fast and shallow breaths, is common in newborns. Pauses lasting over 20 seconds may indicate infant apnea and require medical attention.
  • Hiccups: Hiccups are common in newborns and can result from eating too quickly or swallowing air during feeding. They can also be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux.
  • False “First Cold”: Newborns may exhibit symptoms resembling a cold due to small nasal passages. While usually not requiring treatment, consult a pediatrician for advice on improving breathing, such as using saline drops or a nasal aspirator.

Is It Normal For A Newborn To Have Heavy Breathing? 

A baby’s normal breathing rate is approximately three times faster than that of an adult. While it may appear rapid, it is typically considered normal unless it exceeds 60 breaths per minute. This is why there is nothing to be concerned about if you find your newborn having heavy breathing.

In very young infants, it is common to observe “periodic breathing of infancy.” This means their breathing rate may not be consistent or regular. They may pause their breathing for a few seconds and then resume with a series of rapid breaths before returning to a more typical breathing rate.

When a young infant breathes irregularly or briefly breathes faster than usual, it is generally not a cause for concern as long as their breathing rate falls within the range of 30-60 breaths per minute and there are no other signs of breathing difficulties.

Concerning Signs Related To Your Baby’s Breathing.

If you have concerns about your baby’s breathing, it is important to reach out to your doctor without hesitation. Irregular breathing can be distressing and cause anxiety for parents or caregivers. However, it is essential to remain calm and observe your baby to assess if they appear to be in distress.

Here are some tips to consider if you are worried about your baby’s breathing:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your baby’s typical breathing patterns so that you can better recognize any deviations from the norm.
  2. Record a video of your baby’s breathing and share it with your doctor. Many medical professionals now offer online appointments or communication via email, which can save you an unnecessary trip to the office.
  3. Always ensure that your baby sleeps on their back, as this reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as supported by research from 2021.(8) If your baby has a respiratory infection and is having trouble sleeping, consult your doctor for safe methods to help clear congestion. It is not safe to prop them up or elevate their crib.
  4. Over-the-counter saline drops can be helpful in loosening thick mucus and relieving congestion.
  5. Sometimes, babies may breathe faster when they are overheated or upset. Dress your baby in breathable fabrics and layer their clothing appropriately. It is generally recommended to add only one extra layer more than what you are wearing for the weather conditions.

In case your child experiences any of the following symptoms, it is crucial to call 911 or your local emergency services:

  • Bluish color in the lips, tongue, fingernails, and toenails.
  • Pauses in breathing for 20 seconds or more.

Additionally, it is important to seek immediate medical attention from your doctor if your child exhibits the following signs:

  • Grunting or moaning at the end of each breath.
  • Nostrils flaring, indicating increased effort to breathe and get oxygen into the lungs.
  • Visible retractions, such as muscles pulling in around the neck, collarbones, or ribs.
  • Difficulty feeding along with breathing difficulties.
  • Lethargy or decreased responsiveness in addition to breathing issues.
  • Presence of a fever alongside breathing problems.

Remember that prompt medical evaluation is necessary to ensure the well-being of your child if any of these symptoms occur.


Babies have a faster breathing rate compared to older children and adults, and it is not uncommon for them to make unusual noises while breathing or have heavy breathing. While serious breathing difficulties are rare in infants, it is crucial for parents to be able to recognize if their baby is experiencing trouble breathing. It is essential to become familiar with your baby’s normal breathing patterns to quickly identify any potential issues. If something seems abnormal or concerning, it is important to seek help promptly.


  1. Sweet, L.R., Keech, C., Klein, N.P., Marshall, H.S., Tagbo, B.N., Quine, D., Kaur, P., Tikhonov, I., Nisar, M.I., Kochhar, S. and Muñoz, F.M., 2017. Respiratory distress in the neonate: Case definition & guidelines for data collection, analysis, and presentation of maternal immunization safety data. Vaccine, 35(48Part A), p.6506.
  2. Default – Stanford Medicine Children’s health (no date) Stanford Medicine Children’s Health – Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=breathing-problems-90-P02666 (Accessed: 27 June 2023).
  3. Chourpiliadis, C. and Bhardwaj, A., 2019. Physiology, respiratory rate.
  4. Jha, K., Nassar, G.N. and Makker, K., 2019. Transient tachypnea of the newborn.
  5. Aynalem, Y.A., Mekonen, H., Akalu, T.Y., Habtewold, T.D., Endalamaw, A., Petrucka, P.M. and Shiferaw, W.S., 2020. Incidence of respiratory distress and its predictors among neonates admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, Black Lion Specialized Hospital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PloS one, 15(7), p.e0235544.
  6. Sicari, V. and Zabbo, C.P., 2022. Stridor. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  7. Jain, H., Schweitzer, J.W. and Justice, N.A., 2022. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  8. Kim, H. and Pearson-Shaver, A.L., 2021. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 12, 2023

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