Emergency Care for Changes in Breathing

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Swedish Medical Center

When your child isn't breathing normally, it can be very scary. Many changes in breathing are normal and harmless, but others may indicate a larger problem. 

Newborn Irregular Breathing 

Newborns often breathe faster for a few seconds and then slow down breathing, especially when sleeping. This is normal and does not require treatment. If this type of breathing continues past the age of 6 months, talk to your pediatrician. If your infant displays any of the below symptoms, immediately seek emergency care. 

He/She Stops Breathing

If your child is not breathing and is not responsive, begin CPR and call 911.

If your child stops breathing for 15 seconds or more, and then starts again, visit the pediatric ER to make sure the underlying reason for the episode has been resolved.  

Breath holding spells (involuntary breath holding occurring when the child is crying or upset) often happens between the age of 6 months and 6 years. If your child does this, you do not need to go to the pediatric ER unless it results in loss of consciousness or seizure. In that case, it is important to go to the pediatric ER to make sure there are no other reasons for this occurrence. 

He/She Has a Change in Breathing

If your child has a hard time breathing or is experiencing abnormal behavior or actions, seek emergency care. The following warrant an immediate trip to the pediatric ER:

  • Breathing faster than normal
  • Breathing harder without exertion
  • Chest and abdomen  see-saw (one goes up while the other goes down)
  • Bluish color to the lips or skin
  • Persistent barking cough or wheezing
  • High-pitched squeaky sound in upper airway
  • Placing weight on the hands in a tripod position while hyperextending the neck 

If your child chokes and turns blue, but then returns to normal, still visit the pediatric ER to be sure there are no long term consequences. 

Swedish Pediatric Emergency Care