When the baby has a fever, it is normal for the respiratory rate to increase slightly. However, if your breathing becomes too labored, it is best to contact your pediatrician
Fast breathing in children
Breath, if we know how to interpret it, can provide us with really useful information on the health of children. For example, when your body temperature rises, it also rises slightly breath frequency and you can see this from the fact that the baby is breathing a little faster than usual, it is a physiological condition. But how should parents behave when breathing becomes too labored? Or when the baby is breathing noisily? We asked the dr. Alberto Ferrando, family pediatrician, president of the Ligurian pediatricians association and author of the book How to feed my son.
In this article
The baby’s breath
Children, especially younger ones, have a higher respiratory rate than adults due to their different anatomical and physiological characteristics. Their normal respiratory rate at rest it should be:
- 30 to 60 breaths per minute in newborns;
- 20 to 30 breaths per minute in children,
If the child cries, is agitated or has the temperature these values should be increased by about 10 breaths per minute.
According to the indications of the Italian Society of Emergency Medicine and the Italian Society of Pediatrics we are instead facing a I breathe too fast when we measure:
- more than 60 breaths per minute in a baby less than 2 months old;
- more than 50 breaths per minute in a child aged between 2 and 12 months;
- more than 40 breaths per minute in a child who is 1 to 5 years old;
- more than 30 breaths per minute in a child aged 6 to 12;
- more than 20 breaths per minute in a child over 12 years old.
The respiratory rate can be measured using an oximeter or with another fairly simple method, let’s see how it’s done.
How respiratory rate is measured
To know the baby’s respiratory rate we need to count the number of breaths which he completes in a minute. The respiratory act, consisting of an inspiratory and an expiratory phase, is measured with the child possibly at rest:
- a hand is placed on the abdomen of the baby at the level of the pit of the stomach;
- with the other hand hold a watch or the timer of the mobile phone;
- count one breath every time the baby lifts his chest, for one minute;
- the measurement is repeated at least 3 times.
Knowing how to measure the respiratory rate is very useful for parents, especially to distinguish a situation of normality, for example when the child has a fever and therefore the breathing is slightly faster, from more serious situations in which a respiratory distress.
Fast breathing in the baby: when it is normal
In children, it is normal and physiological to observe a slight increase in respiratory rate when:
- the child exercised, ran or jumped;
- the baby has been nursed: the filling of the stomach pushes the diaphragm up and the baby may have an increased respiratory rate;
- the child has a fever.
Why is breathing faster when the baby has a fever?
“When the child has a fever his respiratory rate tends to increase slightly, but generally there is no need to worry,” explains Dr. Ferrando. In fact, although fever is a cause of many worries for parents, it is a very important defense mechanism against viruses and bacteria, a sign that the body is in some way reacting. Once the fever drops, also thanks to the use of antipyretics, the baby’s respiratory rate should also return to normal.
What to do, though, if you notice that the baby’s breathing is too fast and labored? Your best bet is to contact your pediatrician, who will likely ask you to measure the baby’s breathing rate and report other signs such as coughing or noisy breathing.
Respiratory distress in children: the alarm bells
One of the first signs of the difficulty in breathing (dyspnea) is the sensation of air hunger which is described as the inability to inhale deeply correctly. This symptom is accompanied by others that may vary depending on the age of the child, the triggering cause (there are many) and the severity of the disease:
- irregular, fast, or particularly difficult breathing;
- the last ribs are pulled back when the baby breathes;
- the baby’s abdomen moves faster than usual;
- breathing becomes noisy;
- the lips turn purple.
Having one or more of these symptoms is fine contact the pediatrician or, in the event that the general condition deteriorates rapidly, take the child to the pediatric emergency room.
What we can understand thanks to the characteristics of the breath
The respiratory rate, together with the noise and rhythm of breathing, can be indicators of some pathologies or problems in the child.
The rate of breath
We have seen that children, especially younger ones, have an increased respiratory rate compared to adults. “If the parent notices that the child has rapid breathing, perhaps accompanied by cough or fever, he should report it to the pediatrician” – explains Ferrando. “Among the various causes of this unusual breathing could be bronchitis, bronchiolitis or a lower respiratory tract infection such as pneumonia or bronchopneumonia.”
Sometimes, however, the child breathes poorly and has an increased respiratory rate simply because he has a cold and a stuffy nose. In these cases, the advice is to perform nasal washes to free the baby’s nose and facilitate breathing.
“If the parent has doubts – continues Ferrando – and the pediatrician agrees, it could be useful make a video in which it shows how it breathes …