Baby Breathing Problem: Causes, SIgns & Treatment

Breathing Problem in Newborn Babies

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Arti Sharma (Paediatrician)
View more Paediatrician Our Panel of Experts

Breathing problems are common in infants and can arise immediately after a baby is born and continue for a few hours. But in some babies, breathing problems can be complex and may continue for long. There are several breathing problems that may affect an infant. In this article, we will be discussing them in detail and try to understand the causes and signs and symptoms of breathing problems in babies.

Causes of Breathing Problems in Infants

If the lungs of a baby are not fully developed after his birth, he may have a breathing problem. Although prematurity is the main cause of breathing disorders, there are several other causes of breathing problem in newborns:

1. Respiratory Ailments

Premature babies are highly exposed to the risk of respiratory ailments at birth. Respiratory ailments include breathing difficulty, chronic lung disease, or infections in the respiratory organs.

2. Transient Tachypnea

Transient Tachypnea is a condition where a baby’s breathing is rapid for a short period immediately after birth. It also causes retractions in the chest while inhaling and exhaling.

3. Asphyxia

Asphyxia is a condition where the body is deprived of oxygen. This happens when the baby might have had poor breathing at the time of delivery, during labour, or immediately after birth, which results in a lack of adequate oxygen supply in the blood. If the newborn is deprived of oxygen, his breaths may become fast and if it continues, his heart rate may fall too.

4. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi. It enters the lungs and inflames the airways. The cause of pneumonia in a baby can be the type of delivery, the health condition of the mother during the delivery, and certain events at the time of delivery.

5. Congenital Lung Infection

Congenital lung infection is rare in newborn babies. However, some babies may have an infection in the lungs at the time of birth which may lead to further breathing difficulties.

Congenital Lung Infection

Signs and Symptoms of Breathing Difficulty in Babies

The symptoms of breathing disorders in babies are visible right after his birth. The symptoms include:

1. Coughing Sound or Hoarse Cry

A hoarse coughing sound while breathing indicates an infection in the windpipe or bronchial tubes. This blockage of the larynx is caused due to the formation of mucus deep in the nose and windpipe.

2. Asthmatic Wheezing

A baby might be suffering from asthma if he experiences irregular laboured breathing with wheezing and is making a squeaky sound while breathing out.

3. Shallow Breathing With Retractions

Shallow breathing with retractions, i.e. caving in of the chest while inhaling and exhaling might be an indication of a serious respiratory illness. It is better to get proper antibiotics and medical treatment in such cases.

4. Laboured Breathing With Whistling Sound While Exhaling

Fast laboured breathing in newborn babies can be a sign of pneumonia. Pneumonia is caused due to a bacterial infection. It results in fast or intermittent breathing, slight coughs, and crackling sounds.

5. Skin Turning Blue Around the Nose, Forehead, Neck or Mouth

If a baby has discolouration of the skin or blue-coloured skin around his nose and mouth, then it indicates that he may not be receiving enough oxygen in these areas and might be experiencing trouble while breathing.

6. Laboured Breathing With Raspy Sound and Hoarse Cry

If the baby has laboured breathing, then it could be because of a respiratory infection or a possible fever.

7. Flared Nostrils

Flared nostrils while inhaling oxygen shows that the baby is taking in a lot of efforts to breathe in. Although it may not be due to any serious ailment, it is better to consult a doctor.

Flared Nostrils

Common Breathing Problems in Babies

If your baby has a breathing disorder, the following are the common  problems that he may encounter while breathing:

1. Squeaky Sound

This kind of high-pitched noise is considered harmless and is caused due to excess tissues around the larynx of the infant. You need not worry about yourself, as this shall pass within a year or so.

2. Breathing With a Whistling Noise

Whistling noise is caused when the tiny nose passage has a blockage due to mucus or dried up milk. Mucus and dried milk make the breathing passage even smaller, hence making it difficult for a baby to breathe.

3. Fast Breathing or Panting

Babies have an erratic breathing pattern and they tend to breathe fast (and pant too!). This often occurs in the normal course, and if there are no indications of an illness, it is nothing to worry about.

4. Congestion in the Chest

This is a common phenomenon in newborn babies due to improper digestion of the milk or regurgitation. Carrying the baby in an upright position and patting him gently on the back will put him at ease and his breathing pattern will return to normal.

5. Nose Block or Nasal Congestion

One of the most common breathing problems in babies at night is nasal congestion while sleeping or after feeding. This is due to the stuffy nose which can cause difficulty while sleeping and feeding but is not a serious cause for alarm. Mucus can be suctioned using a bulb syringe in order to ensure that the baby breathes normally again.

6. Transient Tachypnea

This happens in babies immediately after their birth. Sometimes, the lungs are filled with extra fluid leading to breathing difficulty. Extra oxygen is given is such instances, and a full recovery can be expected within a few days.

Transient Tachypnea

How to Treat Infant Breathing Problems

In case of serious noises and retractions, immediate consultation with a doctor is a must. Further tests and symptoms can help the doctor diagnose the problem and suggest medication or antibiotics for the same. At times, even x-rays are recommended to confirm suspicions of serious lung ailments. But with immediate medical attention, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and medicines, breathing difficulty in newborn babies can be treated.

Tips for Concerned Parents

It is important for parents to understand the breathing pattern of the baby in the normal course so that it can be compared when the child suffers from uneven breathing. Parents will have to feel the breath of the baby regularly to record how many breaths he takes per minute.

Breathing problems in newborn babies are common, but treatable. It may or may not be a cause of serious respiratory illness in infants, but with proper supervision of parents and immediate medical attention, this disorder can be treated to restore the normal breathing pattern.

Also Read: Bronchitis in Babies: Causes, Symptoms, Risks & Treatments

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