Periodic Breathing (Infant)

Your infant may have breathing that pauses for up to 10 seconds at a time. This is called periodic breathing. There may be several such pauses close together, followed by a series of rapid, shallow breaths. This irregular breathing pattern is common in premature babies in the first few weeks of life. Even healthy, full-term babies sometimes have spells of periodic breathing. These episodes often happen when the infant is sleeping deeply. But they may also happen with light sleep or even when the baby is awake. A baby with periodic breathing will always restart normal breathing on his or her own. No intervention is needed. Although this can be alarming to the parents, it is a harmless condition and it will go away as your baby gets older.

Periodic breathing is not the same as apnea (when breathing stops for at least 20 seconds) although they may be related in some instances. Apnea is a more serious condition that should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Home care

  • Never shake your baby in an attempt to restart breathing. This can cause a severe brain injury.

  • An infant should always be placed on his or her back to sleep and never on his or her stomach or side. This is true for naps as well as nighttime sleep.

  • Avoid placing infants on soft surfaces, such as a waterbed, sheepskin, soft pillow, bean bag, soft mattress, or fluffy comforter.

  • Try to keep your infant’s head and neck in a neutral (straight) position when the baby is lying down. If the neck bends too far back or forward, breathing can be blocked.

  • Do not expose your infant to cigarette smoke. Never smoke in the home or around the baby. If you smoke, change your clothes before touching your infant. Insist that other smokers follow your example. Make your home and car smoke free aall times.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as advised. Be sure to return for your baby’s next scheduled exam.

When to call your healthcare provider

Always call the healthcare provider if you have any questions. In infants, minor symptoms can worsen very quickly. Also, call your child's healthcare provider right away for any of the following:

  • Pauses in breathing that lasts more than 15 seconds

  • Pauses in breathing happen very often 

  • Baby stops breathing and becomes limp, pale, or blue around the mouth

  • Baby's skin is a bluish color during periods of normal breathing

  • Baby vomits repeatedly or is not eating well

  • Baby is not responding normally

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Baby breathes very fast (If the baby is under to 6 weeks old: Faster than 60 breaths per minute. If the baby is over 6 weeks: Faster than 45 breaths per minute.) 

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© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.