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Health & Baby

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Your Newborn Baby's Breathing Noises

Newborns tend to have an irregular breathing pattern that alternates between fast and slow, with occasional pauses. If your baby makes noises when breathing, take note of what they sound like. This will help determine if there is a problem in the breathing passages and where:

  • Whistling noise: A small blockage in the nostrils tends to make a whistling noise that clears when you suction it out. Newborn babies breathe out of their noses, not their mouths. This is a good trick, as it allows them to breathe and eat at the same time. However, their little noses have small air passages, so a little bit of mucus or dried milk can make the breathing passage even smaller, causing a whistling noise or occasionally, difficulty moving the air in and out.
  • Hoarse cry and a "barking" cough: A blockage in the larynx (windpipe), often due to mucus, makes a hoarse cry and a "barking" cough. This may be a sign of croup, an infection of the larynx, trachea and bronchial tubes.
  • High-pitched, squeaky sound: Called stridor or laryngomalacia, this is a sound very young babies make when breathing in. It is worse when a child is lying on his or her back. It is caused by excess tissue around the larynx and is typically harmless. It typically passes by the time a child reaches age 2.
  • Deep cough: A blockage in the large bronchi (divisions of the trachea, which lead into the lungs) makes a deep cough.
  • Whistling sound (wheezing): A blockage in the bronchioles (small airways that come from the bronchi) makes a whistling sound when the infant breathes out (as in bronchiolitis or asthma later on).
  • Fast, labored breathing: Fluid in the smallest airways (the "alveoli") causes pneumonia, an infection due to a virus or bacteria. Pneumonia causes fast, labored breathing, occasionally cyanosis, a persistent cough, and crackly sounds ("rales") when listened to with a stethoscope.

Tips for Concerned Parents:

Watch your baby's breathing when she's well, so you can get used to how it looks. Time how many breaths she takes in a minute. It's probably faster than you imagined. Knowing what's normal for your baby's breathing will help you spot a potential problem more quickly.

When in doubt of what's going on, make a video of the breathing pattern that is worrying you to show to your baby's health care provider.

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