Newborn Breathing Patterns: What’s Normal?:

By Let Mommy Sleep. July 3, 2013

Newborn Breathing Patterns – What’s Normal?
by Kathleen Hager RN, BSN

Many new parents become focused on their newborn’s breathing. “He just stopped breathing for 8 seconds… is that normal?” “She was breathing regularly, then started breathing really fast… is she okay?” It’s completely normal to have these worries, as it is frightening to see your little one stop breathing for any length of time. We all have variable breathing, even us adults!
Here’s a breakdown of normal newborn breathing patterns:

40-60 breaths per minute
You can assess your newborn’s breathing by looking at their abdomen. Your infant’s abdomen rises and falls with each breath.  The normal rate is 40-60 breaths per minute in the healthy, full-term infant (counted for a full minute), and will vary depending on whether she or he is sleeping, awake, active, or crying.  (More info in this study on UptoDate)
 
Apnea
A baby born preterm, or before 37 weeks gestation, is at risk for apnea. Apnea is a pause in breathing for more than 20 seconds.  For any parent, this is a very long time! The good news is that pauses that are 5-10 seconds long are completely normal.  These short pauses or periodic breathing is commonly seen in preterm infants.  After 15 seconds, the baby needs stimulation to resume breathing such as rubbing his or her back, arms, or legs, suggested in this article on KidsHealth.org.  If your baby is prone to Apnea, the hospital will monitor this closely and may prescribe an apnea monitor upon leaving the hospital so you will know if baby ever needs stimulation.
 
Skin Color
Another good indication that your baby is breathing well is his or her skin color.

  • Pink skin = good perfusion of tissues = good breathing.
  • Blue hands, feet, and around the mouth are actually normal in newborn babies too.   This is called acrocyanosis and is often seen the first few days of life while newborns transition to life outside the womb. (Referenced from How Your Newborn Behaves on HealthyChildren.org)
  • Blue INSIDE the mouth is not normal and suggests that baby is not breathing well. 911 should be called immediately if this occurs at home.

 
Luckily, breathing issues will resolve on their own as your baby’s brain and spinal cord mature and muscle tone strenghtens. You can help your baby breathe best by laying baby on his or her back on a firm, flat crib or bassinet to ensure baby’s airway is open.

About the Author: LMS nurse Kathleen Hager, RN, BSN specializes in perinatal care and has assisted over 50 babies and their families in the home environment, including preemies, twins & triplets.