Symptoms of respiratory distress in babies and toddlers

Changes in your baby or toddler’s breathing rhythm may indicate respiratory distress and require rapid medical intervention.

Symptoms of respiratory distress in babies and toddlers
 Parents should watch their baby’s breathing rhythm closely.

Babies and toddlers tend to breathe faster than older kids and adults and sometimes normal breathing patterns can look like abnormal ones, especially to the untrained eye. Breathing problems in babies and toddlers can have several different causes.

A stuffy or blocked nose due to a common cold could cause irregularities in your child’s breathing, especially while lying down or sleeping. However, sometimes breathing problems can be caused by infections, chronic illness or a blocked airway.

While not all changes in your child’s breathing rate or pattern are dangerous, some changes could indicate that your child is in respiratory distress and that they need immediate medical attention.

Signs of respiratory problems

Signs of respiratory problems in babies and toddlers may include, but are not limited to, the following: 

The rate of your child’s breathing: An increase in the number of breaths per minute may suggest that your child is having difficulty breathing or that they are not taking in enough oxygen.

Increased heart rate:  A rise in your child’s heart rate may result from low oxygen levels.

A change in your child’s skin hue: When a child is not getting enough oxygen, a bluish colour around the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails may appear. Their skin colour may also appear pale or grey.

Your child’s nostrils are flaring: When a child breathes, the openings of the nose stretch open, suggesting that your child has to work harder to breathe.

Retractions: With each breath, your child’s chest appears to sink in slightly below the neck and under the breastbone, as if straining to pull more air into the lungs.

Sweating: More often than not, your child’s skin will feel chilly or clammy. This can happen if your child’s respiratory rate is rapid.

Wheezing: A tight, whistling or melodic sound with each breath may suggest that your child’s air channels are smaller, making breathing more difficult.

Use of auxiliary muscles: When your child breathes in, the neck muscles appear to move.

Changes in behaviour: Low oxygen levels might make your child appear fatigued and signal respiratory exhaustion.

Coughing or choking:  Coughing or choking that persists may suggest a respiratory problem or a digestive condition that your child’s doctor should evaluate.

When to call a doctor

As mentioned, the signs of respiratory distress may resemble other problems or medical conditions. You should consult your baby or toddler’s doctor immediately for any sign of respiratory problems.