Medical News Today: What to know about newborn respiratory rates

a man holding a newborn baby and checking it's respiratory rateShare on Pinterest
A newborn may have an infection if they are breathing very quickly or slowly.

A newborn should take 40–60 breaths per minute. A single breath is one inhalation and one exhalation.

However, researchers behind a 2016 study of 953 healthy, full-term newborn babies found that their respiratory rates varied significantly.

The average respiratory rate was 46 breaths per minute 2 hours after birth. Still, around 5% of the babies took 65 breaths per minute or more. This suggests that a slightly faster breathing rate may be common and healthy, in some cases.

Respiration steadily slows as a baby gets older. The typical breathing rate for a toddler, aged between 1 and 3 years, is 24–40 breaths per minute.

Babies who are very upset may hyperventilate while crying. If their breathing returns to normal, they are usually fine.

A fast respiratory rate, or tachypnea, tends to be more common than a slow rate in newborns. Tachypnea usually means that the baby is not getting enough oxygen and compensating by breathing more frequently.

Many issues can lead to labored breathing in newborns. Some common risk factors for respiratory distress include:

  • premature birth
  • delivery via cesarean section
  • inhaling their own stool, called meconium, during delivery
  • a low level of amniotic fluid, which is a condition called oligohydramnios
  • an infection in the fetal membranes or amniotic fluid, which is called chorioamnionitis
  • gestational diabetes in the mother

Newborns have a higher risk of respiratory problems than older babies or children. Some causes and contributing factors include:

  • Transient tachypnea: This involves the newborn temporarily breathing more rapidly than usual. It typically does not signal a serious problem and tends to resolve within 72 hours, while the baby is still in the hospital. It is more common in those born via cesarean section.
  • Pneumonia: Infants have a high risk of pneumonia because their immune systems have yet to develop fully. Newborns may show no symptoms, but they may experience vomiting, a fever, hard, fast breathing, and a range of other issues.
  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN): This involves the baby’s circulatory system still functioning as it did in the womb and directing too much blood away from the lungs. PPHN can cause fast breathing, a fast heart rate, and a blue tinge to the skin.
  • Congenital abnormalities: These are differences in the anatomy that are present at birth. Some can cause a baby to consistently breathe faster than is healthy. These include abnormalities of the lungs, heart, nose, or respiratory passages.
  • Collapsed lung: When air collects between the lung and chest wall, this makes it difficult for the lung to inflate, impeding breathing. Collapsed lungs can occur in babies with lung abnormalities or those who have experienced a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident.

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