Signs of Respiratory Distress in Newborns?

Newborns can appear perfectly healthy when they are breathing normally. However, there are several tell-tale signs that indicate their breathing is not functioning optimally. These signs include pauses in breathing, increased frequency of breaths, or a slow and shallow breath. Unfortunately, most babies do not have any of these signs at birth. A newborn’s first few weeks of life are the most critical for establishing their breathing pattern as this is when they start to develop lung strength and capacity. If your baby shows any of the symptoms listed here, seek medical help immediately as it could be a sign of respiratory distress and need immediate treatment with supplemental oxygen and humidification. Read on for more information about the possible causes and consequences of newborn respiratory distress

signs of respiratory distress in newborn

Respiratory Distress in Newborns: What causes Respiratory Distress?

There are a variety of reasons why a newborn might experience respiratory distress. Some of the possible causes for respiratory distress in newborns include:

  • Congenital defects or birth injuries like a fractured skull, brain injury, or intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR)
  • Prematurity
  • Excessive crying
  • Obesity
  • The consequences of distress breathing in newborns include:
  • High risk for infant death
  • Complications in later life such as asthma or sleep apnea
  • Potential long-term negative effects on physical and mental development

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Signs and symptoms of respiratory distress in newborns

Signs and symptoms of respiratory distress in newborns:

  1. Pause in breathing.
  2. Increased frequency of breaths.
  3. Slow and shallow breathing.
  4. Tachypnea (rapid, deep, and irregular breathing).
  5. Wheezing sounds during the first few days of life.
  6. Cyanosis (bluish coloration) of the skin due to low levels of oxygen in the blood
  7. Agitation or fussiness that lasts over a period of time, becomes severe, and is not relieved by routine handling
  8. Change in sleep pattern with a sudden increase in waking hours
  9. Any change in feeding pattern that includes a decrease in weight gain or an increase in feedings
  10. A high-pitched cry with no tears
  11. Apparent loss of consciousness without any clinical findings on examination


Consequences of Respiratory Distress in Newborns

A baby’s lungs are still developing and need the proper amount of air, which is why it’s important for them to have enough oxygen. Taken too much or too little oxygen can be life-threatening and can lead to permanent lung damage. The effects of respiratory distress in a newborn will vary depending on their age and the severity of the condition. In some cases, babies might experience a fever, difficulty breathing, persistent cough with mucus or blood-tinged sputum, apnea (brief periods of not breathing), cyanosis (bluish skin color), or bradycardia (slow heartbeat). If all these symptoms are present for more than 48 hours without improvement, seek medical care immediately as your newborn could have pneumonia. Newborns that experience respiratory distress also may be at a higher risk for other health problems, including cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen during development in the womb and suffering from brain injury due to hypoxia (low amounts of oxygen) during delivery. For example, if your baby has low oxygen levels at birth and has low Apgar scores coming out of the hospital, then there is an increased probability that he will suffer from cerebral palsy later on in life.


Prevention of Respiratory Distress in Newborns

Don’t wait for the symptoms to occur. The best way to prevent respiratory distress in newborns is by practicing good infant care. If you notice any signs of respiratory distress, seek medical help immediately. This includes constant monitoring of your baby, as slow and shallow breathing is a sign that their oxygen requirements are high. With this information, your doctor can monitor their condition and provide proper treatment if necessary. It is important to have a discussion with your pediatrician about what signs should be monitored for when it comes to newborns that may be at risk for respiratory distress.


Signs of respiratory distress in newborns include:

  • Pauses in breathing
  • Increased frequency of breaths
  • Slow and shallow breath
  • Tachycardia
  • Apnea
  • Cyanosis
  • Poor feeding or refusal to breathe


As the admin of The Baby Guidance, I'm here to support your parenting journey. With firsthand experience and a passion for creating a welcoming community, I offer valuable insights and expert advice. Join me in navigating the joys and challenges of parenthood on The Baby Guidance.

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