What Are the Causes of Rapid Breathing in an Infant?

Rapid breathing, often described as panting, is quite common in newborns. When no other symptoms are present--and rapid breathing comes and goes and the baby appears otherwise healthy and comfortable--there's usually no cause for concern. However, other causes of rapid breathing in an infant require careful monitoring and treatment. Parents should be educated about these signs and symptoms to determine whether to consult a pediatrician.

Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Caused by immature lungs lacking in protective surfactant that helps the lungs inflate, Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome or RDS makes breathing difficult, according to the National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine website MedlinePlus 4. RDS is most common in premature infants, although a family history of RDS, a rapid or cesarean delivery or maternal diabetes can increase the risk of developing it. Symptoms usually appear shortly after birth. Besides rapid and shallow breathing, they include bluish skin tint, nostril flaring, puffy limbs and even apnea where breathing briefly stops.


When rapid, labored breathing occurs in infants without wheezing or croup sounds, it may be a sign of pneumonia. According to AskDrSears.com, the most important indicators of pneumonia include labored or rapid breathing together with cough and fever 1.

Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn

Often called “wet lungs,” transient tachypnea of the newborn or TTN appears hours after birth 3. TTN occurs when a newborn’s lungs remain filled with fetal fluid that usually clears when a baby passes through the birth canal and takes in his first breaths of air. Babies delivered by cesarean--who are born on the small side--and whose mothers have asthma or diabetes are at higher risk for TTN, according to KidsHealth.org.

TTN symptoms include rapid breathing of more than 60 breaths per minute, flaring nostrils and skin cyanosis, in which the skin around the mouth and nose is tinged blue. Hospitals usually monitor TTN babies and provide oxygen as necessary until their breathing rates slow down within two or three days.