Normal Respiratory Rate for Children

Expert Q&A

An infant getting a nebulizer treatment.
Nebulizer treatments are sometimes prescribed for infants with tachypnea and wheezing. Photo by Steve Debenport/Getty Images

Question. My daughter (13 months) had the stomach flu on the weekend (Friday to Sunday), and started showing symptoms of a cold yesterday (Tuesday). She hasn't eaten anything for about 6 days now. As of today, we have finally been able to get her to keep down about 15oz a day of liquid, and her fever is reduced, but I'm noticing that her breathing is quite fast. She is showing no signs of dehydration, and we had her checked on Saturday and Tuesday morning. Both times the doctors said she was doing all right, but the bug had to run its course. I'm a little concerned still because she is breathing about 55-60 times per minute. Her cold is quite bad right now. Is this normal? Does a cold or flu bug increase breathing rate? I don't know what her normal breathing rate is, as I've never had reason to check. Diane, Canada

Answer. Breathing at a rate of 55-60 times per minute would be considered to be rather fast (called tachypnea).

Normal Breathing Rates for Kids

What are the normal breathing rates for kids?

Like the normal pulse rate for kids, the normal breathing rate is going to depend on the child's age.

In general, you would expect a child's respiratory rate or breathing rate to be:

  • 24 to 39 breaths a minute for an infant
  • 22 to 31 breaths a minute for a younger toddler
  • 21 to 29 breaths a minute for an older toddler
  • 21 to 25 breaths a minute for a preschooler
  • 19 to 21 breaths a minute for a younger school age child
  • 17 to 22 breaths a minute for a preteen
  • 13 to 21 breaths a minute for a teenager

And of course, your child's breathing might be a little faster if he is running or very active.

Periodic Breathing

Newborns typically have the fastest breathing rate.

They may even have so-called periodic breathing.

During an episode of periodic breathing, they may have a period of slow breathing, followed by a minute or so of very rapid breathing.

This is usually normal and shouldn't cause your child to turn blue or have any other symptoms.

What Causes Fast Breathing

What would cause a child to breathe fast or have tachypnea?

A simple cold or flu bug might cause a temporary increase in a child's respiratory rate during a fever, but it should return to normal once the fever is reduced.

An increased respiratory rate could also be a sign of dehydration.

Following a cold, a fast breathing rate might also mean that a child has:

  • pneumonia
  • bronchiolitis, with wheezing
  • a worsening in her infection, with the development of metabolic acidosis

A child with asthma might also start breathing fast during a cold or flu infection if it triggers an asthma attack.

Even though she is drinking better and has less fever, you likely should call your doctor since your daughter's breathing is getting worse. This is especially important if she is still breathing fast.

Sources: The Harriet Lane Handbook

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