Raspy Breathing in Infants

There are many conditions which can cause an infant to have raspy sounding breathing. Some of these conditions are temporary and some of them may be more permanent. In addition, there are some illnesses that have more serious or severe consequences, while some clear up rather quickly with a minimal amount of care. Following is some helpful information, not only on what to do if you hear your child breathing in a labored fashion, but also some of the conditions which may cause the problem.

Normal Newborn Breathing Issues

Newborn babies will experience a number of different breathing difficulties; most of them are quite normal and are simply attributed to being a newborn. For example, many newborns pant or breathe rapidly. Provided there is no other sign of illness such as fever, refusal to eat or general lethargy, there is probably nothing to worry about. In the same way, you may hear your baby breathing in what almost sounds like little gurgles. This is often just due to a bit of nasal congestion which is completely harmless. Most of the time this can be corrected by squirting a small amount of saline, which can be purchased at the pharmacy, into the baby’s nose and gently using a suction bulb syringe. There is also what is known as “junky breathing” and usually occurs as a result of regurgitated milk or saliva. This is a common occurrence in newborns and if it is not accompanied by any other problems, shouldn’t be an issue.


Asthma can strike your newborn as soon as he/she is born or can develop as your baby grows. In some cases asthma may even be present the day you bring your baby home from the hospital. Asthma can be quite serious in many cases and should not be disregarded. This illness is marked by an inability to take air into the lungs properly. It is accompanied by severe wheezing and labored gasping. In most cases babies having asthma attacks will actually take on a bluish appearance as they are not getting enough oxygen to their blood. If your baby is showing any signs of difficulty taking in air, call your doctor immediately or take him/her to the emergency room. Asthma can be treated but there are many things which can go wrong as a result of a lack of oxygen.


Pertussis is a very dangerous virus which causes a severe respiratory infection. In addition, this illness takes the lives of a great number of infants each year. This illness is otherwise known as “whooping cough” and that is because it is usually accompanied by a deep gasping sound as the lungs constrict and become unable to take in air. This condition is very serious and must be treated as soon as symptoms become evident. In addition, Pertussis is usually accompanied by a high fever and for this reason dehydration can occur. While there is a vaccine for this illness, young babies cannot get it until they reach a certain age. This is why the “cocooning method” is suggested for homes which have new babies. This means that everyone in the home, adults and other children should be vaccinated to minimize the risk of infecting the newborn with Pertussis.

Food Allergies

Believe it or not, there are many foods such as dairy which can cause infants to experience breathing and congestion issues. Many times parents do not realize that this is what is causing the issue and so they fail to change their baby’s diet. This can lead to long periods of time in which the baby is displaying symptoms with no apparent cause. Most of the time a battery of allergy tests must be performed in order to determine if this is in fact the issue. Generally, a pediatrician will suggest keeping your baby off things like milk and cheese when there is the presence of excess mucus. This is because dairy products can cause the body to create more mucus in the nose, leading to further complications.

What to Do If Your Baby Is Congested

If your baby has a condition in which he/she is having trouble breathing, there are a few things you may do to help open up his/her bronchial tubes in order to assist him/her with breathing. A vaporizer with a small amount of Vicks vapor-rub in the water will help to open the baby’s air passages. In addition, standing in the bathroom with the hot water running and gently patting the baby on the back can help loosen phlegm. You might also try taking a little bit of Vicks and rubbing it gently on the baby’s back or chest. Keep in mind that Vicks will also cause the baby’s skin to become cold on the area where it is applied so remember to bundle the baby well if you have applied Vicks to his/her chest.

No matter what the case, it can be alarming for any parent, especially one with a brand new baby, to hear his/her child breathing in a labored way. As parents our first reaction is to fix whatever is wrong with our children. When we cannot do this we often become frustrated and feel helpless. The most important thing to do when we think our children are ill is to remember to remain calm. Being panicked and anxious will do nothing to help your baby, in fact babies can pick up on the way their parents are feeling. If you are nervous chances are your baby will become frightened which can make them feel even worse. Try and remember that most of the time whatever is wrong with your baby can be treated and he/she will more than likely be just fine. Freaking out has never helped a parent through a tough time, and it certainly won’t serve your baby well.


  1. Please read up on the dangers of using Vicks on infants! While most people will never experience problems, occasional respiratory problems can arise in young children which have caused hospitalization and death. There are kid safe alternatives, but I'd hate to see a child hurt because of this advice!

  2. This was an informative guide. My grandchild has raspy breathing, this article helped me understand what can help.

    Thank you!

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