Normal Pulse Rates for Kids

The Speed of Your Child's Lub-Dub May Have Meaning

Doctor examining baby with stethoscope
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Parents often know that their own pulse rate or heart rate should be within about 60 to 100 beats per minute, and they are often surprised that their children typically have a higher pulse rate than them.

Knowing what a normal pulse rate is and how to check your child's pulse can help you avoid unnecessary worry about your child's heart rate. It might even help you identify a slow or fast pulse rate when your child is sick.

How to Take Your Child’s Pulse

Your heart rate, also called your pulse, is the number of times your heart beats every minute. You can measure your child’s pulse by placing your finger over his or her wrist, inside of the elbow, side of the neck, or on the top of the foot. These sites represent areas of the body where an artery lies (for example, the carotid artery in the neck or the radial artery in the wrist).

When you feel the pulse, it is easiest to count the number of beats you hear in a 60 second period. Alternatively, you can count the number of beats you hear in 30 seconds and then multiple by two.

Before looking at what normal pulse rates are in children, it is important to keep in mind that there are a couple different pulse rates that experts talk about. The resting pulse rate is your heart rate when you are not exercising, like when you are watching a movie or reading a book.

More often with adults or adolescents, you may hear the term target heart rate.

This is the level your heart rate should likely reach while exercising, to make sure you are getting an effective workout.

What Is a Normal Pulse Rate for Your Child?

So how fast should your child's heart be beating?

A child’s resting pulse rate for his age is measured when he is at rest and not crying, running, or playing.

During crying or physical activity, a child's pulse rate may climb to the upper limits of normal for his age, and it may drop to the lower limits of normal when he is sleeping.

Here are the normal ranges of heart rate in children from birth to 18 years of age, based on a large review study in Lancet. These measurements are taken from children at rest and in infants who are awake and healthy. The median number is the first number and represents the middle heart rate of the whole sample.

This being said, it’s best to talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s pulse. There are some inconsistencies among various references ranges for pediatric heart rate—so use this as a guide, but not a hard and fast rule:

  • 0 to 3 months: 143 beats/min (ranging from 107 to 181 beats/min)
  • 3 to 6 months: 140 beats/min (104 to 175 beats/min)
  • 6 to 9 months: 134 beats/min (98 to 168 beats/min)
  • 9 to 12 months: 128 beats/min (93 to 161 beats/min)
  • 12 to 18 months: 116 beats/min (88 to 156 beats/min)
  • 18 months to 24 months: 116 beats/min (82 to 149 beats/min)
  • 2 to 3 years: 110 beats/min (76 to 142 beats/min)
  • 3 to 4 years:  104 beats/min (70 to 136 beats/min)
  • 4 to 6 years: 98 beats/min (65 to 131 beats/min)
  • 6 to 8 years: 91 beats/min (59 to 123 beats/min)
  • 8 to 12 years: 84 beats/min (52 to 115 beats/min)
  • 12 to 15 years: 78 beats/min (47 to 108 beats/min)
  • 15 to 18 years: 73 beats/min (43 to 104 beats/min)

 As you can see, younger kids normally have faster heart rates than teenagers. On the other hand, very athletic teens can have resting pulse rates as low as 40-50 beats/min. This is because they are so fit, their muscle does not have to work or pump as hard to get blood through the body. 

Slow and Fast Heart Rates in Children

A child's pulse rate can be normal, fast (this is called tachycardia), or slow (this is called bradycardia).

In some forms of tachycardia, like supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), the heart rate might get over 220 beats/min. Or a child with bradycardia might have a heart rate less than 50 beats/min.

Keep in mind that a very fast or slow heart rate can be a medical emergency, especially if your child has any symptoms associated with it, like fainting (syncope), dizziness, or extreme irritability. 

In addition to seeking medical attention right away if your child has symptoms linked to a fast or slow heart rate, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician if your child always seems to be at either the upper or lower limits of normal.

For example, report to your child's doctor if he is at the lower range of normal for his pulse rate, even when he is running around and playing, or if he is always at the upper range of normal for his pulse rate, even when he is sleeping.

A heart rate above the upper limit of normal may be a sign of an underlying heart condition, or it can be a clue that other problems are going on in the body like an infection or a metabolic condition.

A pulse can also be regular or it can be irregular, which can be a sign of a heart problem.

Evaluation of an Abnormal Heart Rate in Your Child

If your pediatrician is worried about your child’s heart rate, she may order some tests to see if there is an underlying heart abnormality. For example, in addition to your pulse, your doctor will also check your child’s blood pressure and may order an electrocardiogram (ECG).

The ECG (also called an EKG) allows your doctor to not only verify your child’s heart rate, but also the rhythm, or electrical activity, of the heart, as well as provide clues on whether the heart is enlarged or working too hard. In some instances, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in heart conditions in children, called a pediatric cardiologist.

In addition to heart problems, your doctor may also check blood tests like a complete blood count or a thyroid test. This is because conditions like anemia or hyperthyroidism can cause a fast heart rate.

Sometimes the culprit behind your child’s fast heart rate is something much easier to fix. For example, one controllable factor is caffeine. A child may develop a high resting heart rate if he or she consumes coffee, energy drinks, or several sodas throughout the day.

Another factor that can affect your child's resting heart rate can include side effects of some medications. While you might expect that a stimulant for ADHD might raise your child's heart rate, you may be surprised to learn that an over-the-counter decongestant can too.

A high resting heart rate can also be associated with pain, dehydration, or a fever. If the high heart rate is attributed to these factors, then reversal of them should bring the heart rate back to the normal range. For example, if a child is sick with a high fever then he may have a high heart rate. Treating the fever with Tylenol (acetaminophen) and fluids should bring the heart rate back to normal.

A Word From Verywell

Listening to your child’s heart beating away is a truly beautiful moment, and the fact that a child’s heart often naturally beats faster than his parents is somewhat symbolic of their vivaciousness and zest for life.

That being said, while gaining knowledge about your child's heart rate is sensible, be sure to reach out to your pediatrician if you have any questions or worries.

Sources:

American Heart Association. (July 2015). All About Heart Rate (Pulse).

Fleming S et al. Normal ranges of heart rate and respiratory rate in children from birth to 18 years of age: a systematic review of observational studies. Lancet. 2011 Mar 19;377(9770):1011-8.

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed. Saunders; 2007.

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