At every point in motherhood, some changes your baby undergoes may leave you asking the question; “Is this normal?” It is totally okay to freak over the slightest changes you may notice in your little one as they are quite fragile and need the highest level of care possible. Knowing when to worry is important in caring for your baby. Drawing from my extensive experience as a pediatrician, I want to emphasize that your concerns are valid. It is important to know that you’re not alone in this journey, and we as pediatricians are here to help you navigate through your baby’s growth, to know when to worry and when not to.
As a parent, it is concerning to see your baby gasp for air or make extra effort to take in some air. You should know that gasping for air in newborns is normal when they cry for long periods or during feeding. However, randomly gasping for air is a sign that your baby is not getting enough oxygen, which may indicate an underlying medical condition. We will discuss why your baby gasps for air randomly, what to do about it, and when to see a doctor.
- Why does my baby gasp for air randomly?
- How can I support my baby’s breathing?
- When should I contact my doctor?
Table of Contents
Is it Normal for Newborns to Gasp for Air?
So why does your baby gasp for air randomly? It is normal for newborns to gasp for air when taking their first breath. This is because their lungs are initially filled with fluid while in your uterus, and so a sudden change of environment following birth will force your baby to breathe in air that may sound like a gasp.
Also, some newborns may gasp while eating. This is because, during the period of feeding, some babies are unable to breathe simultaneously and tend to hold their breath for short periods, after which they gasp for air. If you notice issues when bottle feeding check out this article to learn how to implement paced bottle feeding.
However, if gasping for air persists in your newborn, it is a sign that your baby is not getting enough air, and this could be due to several reasons.
What Causes Newborns to Gasp for Air?
Your newborn may gasp for several reasons. Some causes are harmless, while others are concerning and require medical attention.
Reasons why your newborn may gasp for air include:
Some newborns are unable to breathe and eat at the same time. This forces them to take it one at a time by holding their breath while eating and taking short breaks to breathe. This breath taken may sound like gasps for air. There’s absolutely no need to worry about this because with time your newborn will learn to breathe and eat at the same time. Breastfeeding is a whole phase in motherhood that does not come naturally, and it takes some learning and adjustments to successfully pass through this phase and help your baby feed adequately.
In reflux, there is a back-flow of meals from the stomach back into the mouth. You may notice your newborn spitting up after feeding. Reflux is pretty common among newborns and could be the reason your newborn seems to be gasping for air. This is once again nothing to worry about and can be resolved by practical steps that we will get into shortly.
Your newborn has a tiny airway passage that is easily clogged by excess mucus causing your little one to gasp for air. Excess mucus production in your newborn may be due to allergies, common colds and even underlying medical conditions like asthma. Excess mucus in your newborn’s airway is usually not a cause for alarm, however, you should take your baby for a hospital check-up just to be sure it is nothing serious.
Asthma is a medical condition which causes your newborn’s airway passage to narrow resulting in breathing difficulties and gasping for air. It is essential that you take your baby to the hospital as soon as possible as this condition is diagnosed by a pediatrician.
Being a Preemie
Premature newborns may have breathing problems as their breathing mechanism is not fully developed. This will improve over time as they mature, and as such is not a cause for concern. If, however, your preemie gasps for air and does not resume breathing immediately after, they need urgent medical attention.
This is a medical condition where the tissue surrounding your newborn’s vocal cords is softer than usual which makes breathing difficult and causes your newborn to randomly gasp for air. Laryngomalacia is congenital, meaning your baby was born with it. It is diagnosed by a pediatrician and usually resolves on its own as your baby grows.
Airway infections can make it difficult for your newborn to breathe and get enough air. This is because these infections can cause your baby’s airway to be filled with mucus or become inflamed, resulting in your newborn gasping for air.
Smoking cigarettes in the same room as your newborn can expose your child to developing asthma and breathing difficulties. You should smoke in a different room from where your newborn is to protect them from inhaling the smoke passively.
What Can I Do to Support Their Breathing?
Gasping for air as we said earlier is a sign that your newborn is not getting enough air. Helping your little one’s breathing will go a long way in reducing the rate at which they gasp for air.
The following are practical steps to aid your newborn’s breathing:
Due to Congestion?
Humidifiers can be used to loosen up the mucus in your baby’s airway, making it easier to snort out and relieving the congestion.
In addition, nasal aspirators can be used to take out mucus from your baby’s airway which will significantly relieve congestion and random gasping for air. When it comes to selecting the best nasal aspirator for your little one, I always recommend that mothers go for simple and easy to use aspirators. One aspirator I go for is the INNOVO twister bulb nasal aspirator. It is easy to use, easy to clean and has a clear body so you can see the color and consistency of your child’s mucus.
Due to Reflux?
Reflux can be relieved by the proper positioning of your baby. It is best to avoid laying your baby flat all the time. Make sure to hold your baby upright, especially during feeding and 30 minutes after your baby is done feeding.
Keeping your baby upright may be difficult, especially if you have other kids or have to juggle other activities. Practical ways to keep your baby upright include:
- Baby Wearing: This is a good way to ensure your baby is laying upright without having to hold them.
- Propping up with pillows: using pillows to help your baby stay upright after feeding is a good way to help relieve their reflux.
In an Emergency?
If you find that your newborn is not breathing call 911 immediately. While waiting for help you can follow these steps as listed by NHS.org:
- Carefully tilt your baby’s head and lift the chin
- Check to see if your baby is breathing
- If your baby is breathing, lay your baby on the side and watch for continued breathing
- If your baby is still not breathing you may need to start a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
When Should I Contact My Doctor?
You should contact your doctor as soon as you notice changes in your baby’s breathing pattern. It is always best to be on the safe side by reporting anything you find strange to the doctor. And no, it does not make you look paranoid. That’s just you being a great and vigilant mom.
Worrying about your baby is a vital part of motherhood, and it is not something you should be sorry for. Even as a pediatrician, I also worry when I see unexpected changes in babies. Watching out for the little signs in your newborn can help prevent bigger issues from occurring and ensure your baby is safe and healthy.
Your newborn gasping for air can be completely harmless or could be a cause for concern. Either way, it is good to take your baby for medical check-ups just to be sure.
Nancy M.D. is a health practitioner, pediatrician and medical writer, who is dedicated to fostering awareness, and lending a helping hand to humanity at large.