Newborn baby breathing – what to expect

Bringing your new baby home from the hospital is exciting, but can be quite daunting too, particularly if it’s your first. All of a sudden, you’re responsible for this tiny and completely dependent being!

Knowing what to expect in the first few days and weeks can help to reduce any feelings of overwhelm or anxiety.

One unusual thing you might not be expecting from your newborn is their noisy breathing patterns and strange sounds they make. It’s understandable that you would worry that it doesn’t sound right, or to watch over them as they sleep with every noise they make.

To help you breathe easier, here we look at what’s normal, and when it’s time to seek medical advice.

What is normal newborn baby breathing like?

Newborn breathing sounds very different to an adult’s. Remember that they only started breathing through their nose and lungs the moment they were born. Their nasal passages are also very tiny. Here’s what normal breathing sounds like (even if it’s distressing for you):

  • Quick breathing About 40-60 breaths per minute when they’re awake, and 30-60 breaths per minute when they’re sleeping.
  • Pausing Breathing may stop for several seconds before starting again with a burst of rapid breathing.

Normal periodic breathing of infancy like this should stop by around 6 months when your baby grows out of it.

What is NOT normal newborn baby breathing?

The following signs are red flags that you need to seek medical attention for:

  • Breathing that’s consistently fast It’s normal for a baby to breathe quickly when they’re awake, particularly after a bout of crying, but the rate should slow when they stop crying. Continuous rapid breathing indicates a problem.
  • Persistent grunting A lot of snorts and grunts happen because of a newborn’s tiny nasal passages, and nasal breathing is good because it helps them to breathe while they feed. However, if it happens consistently, contact your doctor immediately.
  • Wheezing from their chest Wheezing from their nose or throat is an indication of normal congestion, but if their breathing is noisy or they’re wheezing, it could be a sign that they have a viral infection that’s settled in their lungs (this is very common in babies), so see your paediatrician straight away.
  • Whistling sounds You might hear this when they either exhale or inhale, or both. As it can be hard for babies to breathe due to their small airways, even the smallest blockage can make it even harder to breathe. Speak to your doctor or MCHN if you hear any unusual sounds.
  • A barking cough This is most likely croup, an illness caused by a respiratory virus. Here are the tell tale signs of croup in babies.
  • Flaring nostrils Newborns usually exclusively breathe through their nostrils, so flaring is often a sign that they are struggling to breathe, or even of respiratory distress. Don’t ignore this sign – seek medical attention.
  • Skin colour changes with breathing pauses If your baby’s lips, eyes, hands, or feet take on a bluish tinge when their breathing pauses, this could be a sign of a serious problem. Here are more details about what to look for in Newborn skin: What’s normal?
  • Chest retractions If you notice that your baby’s skin is sucking in with each breath, particularly around the collarbone and ribs, it’s a sign that they’re struggling to breathe.


Your beautiful baby will make a symphony of weird and wonderful noises, hiccups, burps, sneezes, grunting, snuffles, and gurgles, and it’s often not something to be concerned about, but call your doctor anytime that something doesn’t seem right. It’s a parent’s job to worry about and protect their precious little ones.

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