Irregular Breathing in Babies


Taking care of a baby is a big responsibility. Whether the baby is your child or someone else’s, any time a baby begins to breathe irregularly, it is a scary experience. Several situations cause babies to develop irregular breathing. Understanding what they are and how to handle them will give you confidence in how to handle it when it happens.

Low Oxygen Settings

Air travel triggers irregular breathing in some babies, according to The pressurized cabin provides a low-oxygen environment, which causes the problem. The breathing pattern of infants traveling by air typically includes the periodic cessation of breathing for up to 10-second intervals. This pattern can last throughout the flight. No definitive cause has been found for babies to develop irregular breathing in low-oxygen settings, but it was determined that air travel is not harmful to babies who do not have additional breathing issues, such as asthma.


Irregular breathing is a hallmark symptom of asthma. According to, difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing are typical asthma signs in children under five years old.

Shortness of breath during feedings is another indicator of asthma problems.

Viruses, allergies and exposure to cigarette smoke are common allergy triggers in babies and children. An asthmatic child’s colds often last longer than the colds of non-asthmatics, according to

Seek emergency medical care if the baby is gasping to breathe, the stomach sucks inward with every breathing attempt or the baby has difficulty being vocal due to the breathing problems.

Baby asthma is diagnosed based on parent description of symptoms and listening to the baby’s lungs for wheezing.

Treatment plans usually include medication. For babies, a nebulizer machine that turns the medication into a vapor can monitor and limit a mist that the baby breathes in through a mask.

Sleep Apnea

Two types of sleep apnea can occur in babies, Apnea of Prematurity and Apnea of Infancy.

In AOP the apnea is caused by underdeveloped lungs and brains in babies born before 34 weeks gestation. Parents and caregivers of such infants are taught CPR before the baby is discharged. The baby is typically prescribed a sleep apnea monitor machine that alerts caregivers when breathing becomes too irregular while the baby is asleep.

AOI typically self-resolves, although parents and caregivers are taught CPR before the baby is released. The doctor may also prescribe a sleep apnea monitor that monitors heart rate and breathing. The information is electronically transmitted to the physician’s office, which can monitor progress as the baby grows. Babies who develop this type of apnea are typically full-term and at some point the irregular breathing may be diagnosed as normal breathing patterns for that baby.



Irregular breathing can be a byproduct of snoring, according to Parenting Science. Approximately 15 to 25 percent of infants snore. While snoring can be a symptom of infant sleep apnea, even with no sleep apnea involved, breathing irregularities caused by snoring can cause physical problems for the baby.

Parenting Science reports research has shown eight-month-old babies regularly awakened by their own snoring do not do as well on mental development tests as babies who do not snore.

The developmental effects of sleep disordered breathing (SDB) are usually reversible. Contact your pediatrician for information if your baby’s frequent snoring concerns you.

Weak Respiratory System

The respiratory system includes the lungs, muscles and signals from the brain. Weakened respiratory systems due to virus, medications or brain injury can all create irregular breathing patterns. Treatment is aimed at the cause of the breathing difficulty.



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