Fast breathing in babies

Fast breathing in babies

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When babies breathe quickly: causes, symptoms and therapy
Parents wonder: Is it dangerous if my baby breathes quickly? First of all, it is perfectly normal for babies to breathe faster than adults. The basic rule applies in biology: the smaller a mammal, the faster it breathes and the more frequently its heart beats.

A newborn breathes 30-50 times a minute, a baby up to the first year of life 20-30 times, and this remains the same with the toddler. A teenager over 13 only breathes 12-20 times on average.

Fast breathing in babies that exceeds this average can indicate serious illnesses and can be signs of fever, bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Cause: bronchiolitis

Bronchioles are the branches of the bronchi. If these are inflamed and swell, breathing is difficult. It is a common viral infection that affects every third baby in the first year of life. The triggers are usually RS viruses, rhinoviruses or adenoviruses. Such viruses also cause inflammation of the middle ear, pseudo-croup and pneumonia. Babies usually contract bronchial infection in the cold months - between October and March.

Rapid breathing is an alarm signal for bronchiolitis. The symptoms usually correspond to a flu-like infection with a mild fever and go away after a week. But if the inflammation progresses, it can endanger the life of the baby.

The little ones get too little oxygen and breathe very quickly, they draw their breath in, and yet there is no breathing noise in the lungs: there is an acute risk that the little ones will die from lack of oxygen.


The symptoms are a runny nose, a dry cough, a temperature of 39 degrees, lack of appetite. If the symptoms get worse, the cough increases, the children breathe quickly, shallowly and with great effort, and the heartbeat increases.

It is difficult for laypeople to distinguish bronchiolitis from a cold. If in doubt, go to your pediatrician. They measure the oxygen in the blood and decide whether the baby has to go to the hospital. This is usually not the case. Bronchiolitis is very rare.

Difficult course?

You can tell whether there is severe bronchiolitis by the following signs: The baby drinks only half the normal amount of milk in 24 hours; it dehydrates, the diapers stay dry, and mouth and lips dry out. The baby is permanently sleepy and apathetic. The fever rises well above 38 degrees. The baby breathes very quickly.

Breathing problems are the most dangerous symptom of severe bronchiolitis and you should call the emergency doctor immediately if the baby wheezes when breathing, breathing sounds like a whistle or scratching, the skin "pulls in" between the ribs, clavicle or costal arch , the baby moans and tightens his abs, the lips and / or fingernails turn blue.

There is a particular risk of a threatening form of bronchiolitis in babies who were born prematurely, are younger than three months, have had problems with the heart and lungs since birth, their immune systems are weakening and they have previously received artificial oxygen.

Home remedies for bronchiolitis

It is a viral infection, so you can watch the immune system fight the infection, especially until it mostly subsides on its own.

Above all, you can alleviate the symptoms so that the baby suffers less: Give the child the breast or water as often as possible with their food. It should drink in many small sips because it has difficulty breathing.

Give the baby ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but only if it's older than three months. Both lower the fever and relieve the sore throat, making it easier for the child to eat and drink.

1. Keep the baby upright while eating, then the nasal congestion causes fewer problems.

2. Raise the baby's head, because then it will breathe better.

3. Bathe the baby in warm steam.

Cause: pneumonia

Fast breathing of the baby, i.e. 50 times or more per minute, can indicate pneumonia. It usually begins with a fever, nasal congestion, and cough. There are also abdominal and chest pain, vomiting and, in severe cases, blue fingers and lips.

If symptoms of pneumonia speak, you should quickly see a doctor. The diagnoses whether there is a bacterial infection or a virus. Babies with severe shortness of breath must go to the hospital.

Breathe in your sleep

Newborns breathe periodically, and this is perfectly normal. Sometimes they breathe quickly and deeply, then slowly and shallowly. This breathing pattern changes over the first few months.

Speaks for problems if the baby's pulse is over 100, he breathes after breathing, puffs his nostrils, has a barking cough, and his chest is tight like his neck, breathing interruptions last more than ten seconds.

There is a clear warning if the forehead, nose or lips turn bluish purple. This shows that the blood is getting too little oxygen.


With fever, the babies breathe faster. First of all, it's not dramatic, on the contrary. Fever means nothing other than that the immune system fights a pathogen. But breathing quickly can also indicate over-inflation of the lungs.

However, babies very rarely have a fever in the first few months. On the other hand, the temperature rises when the baby is dressed warm.

Elevated temperature shows that the metabolism is working, attacking bacteria and viruses. With no other symptoms, fever is a good sign. Feverish babies, however, become restless, sleepy, or cry.

Up to 38.5 degrees, a fever is not a problem, at least if it is not associated with a basic illness. However, if the body temperature remains the same, or even rises, despite medication that should lower the fever, you should take the baby to the doctor, and this also applies if the fever persists for more than five days.

However, for infants under three months of age, if the child has a fever, go to the doctor. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Silvia Höfer: Quickfinder Babies first year, Grafe and Unzer, 2009
  • Adele Pillitteri: Maternal & Child Health Nursing: Care of the Childbearing & Childrearing Family (Maternal and Child Health Nursing), LWW, 2009
  • Christian Jassoy, Andreas Schwarzkopf: Hygiene, Infectiology, Microbiology, Thieme, 2018
  • Robert Koch Institute: (accessed: 04.09.2019), Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections (RSV)

Video: Caring for your child with bronchiolitis (August 2022).