He just stopped breathing for a few seconds… is that normal?
She just started breathing really fast… is that okay?
We all have variable breathing, even us adults, but it can be frightening to see your little one stop breathing for any length of time or observe anything other than steady in-and-out breaths.
Here is a breakdown of newborn breathing patterns to know what's normal when caring for a newborn:
40-60 breaths per minute
You can assess a newborn’s breathing by looking at their abdomen. An 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 60 seconds), and will vary depending on whether s/he is sleeping, awake, active or crying.
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 baby's back, arms or legs. 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.
Commercially sold wearable monitors such as the Owlet also track heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep using pulse oximetry.
Another good indication that your baby is breathing well is 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.
- 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.