Periodic Breathing (Infant)

Your baby 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 stretches 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 regular breathing on his or her own. No intervention is needed. Although this can be alarming to parents, it is a harmless condition. 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). But the 2 conditions may be related in some instances. Apnea is a more serious condition. It should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Home care

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

  • Always place your infant 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.

  • Don't place your infant face down 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.

  • Don't 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 at all 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 these:

  • Pauses in breathing that last more than 15 seconds

  • Pauses in breathing that 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 younger than 6 weeks old: faster than 60 breaths per minute. If the baby is older than 6 weeks: faster than 45 breaths per minute.) 

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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