Signs That Children Are Struggling To Breathe

Signs That Children Are Struggling To Breathe

Check the signs that show your child is struggling to breathe. Know the different noises that babies or children can make when they are struggling to breathe.

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How do I know if my child is struggling to breathe?

If your baby or child is struggling to breathe, see a doctor urgently.

Babies

Babies who are struggling to breathe may not be able to feed as well or as long as they usually do.

What will I see or hear when I look at my baby?

  • fast breathing
  • sucking or pulling in under the ribcage
  • sucking or pulling in between each rib
  • using the muscles around the neck during breathing - this can make it look like your baby's head is bobbing up and down
  • flaring of the nostrils - the nostrils move out as your baby breathes
  • extra noises when breathing in or out or both

If your baby looks blue, is very drowsy or has pauses in their breathing, dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) and ask for urgent medical help.

Check the following video to see an 8-month-old baby with flaring of their nostrils and pulling in under the ribcage.

Children

What will I see or hear when I look at my child?

  • fast breathing
  • sucking or pulling in under the ribcage
  • sucking or pulling in between each rib
  • using the muscles around the neck during breathing
  • flaring of the nostrils - the nostrils move out as your child breathes
  • extra noises when breathing in or out or both
  • so breathless they can only speak a few words at a time

If your child looks blue, is agitated or drowsy or can only speak one or 2 words, dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) and ask for urgent medical help.

Check the following video to see a 2-year-old sucking or pulling in between each rib.

Check the following video to see a 3 year old sucking or pulling in between each rib.

Check the following video to see a 3 year old using the muscles around the neck during breathing.

What are the different noises that babies or children can make when they are struggling to breathe?

Wheeze

Wheezing is a musical, whistly sound that children make, usually when breathing out. It can also happen when they breathe in. The sound comes from the chest, not from the nose or throat. It can happen if your child has a condition like bronchiolitis or asthma or viral wheeze.

Check the following video to see and hear an 8-month-old baby with wheeze - the baby is head bobbing, wheezing and sucking in under their ribs.

Stridor

Stridor is a harsh noise your child might make when breathing in. It can happen if your child has a condition like croup.

Check the following videos to hear what stridor sounds like.

Grunting

A grunt or a moan or a short sigh is a noise your child might make when breathing out. It can happen if your child has a condition like pneumonia.

Check the following video to hear an 8-month-old baby grunting and wheezing.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Rhiannon Giles for permission to share the video clips of her son Rowan:

  • at 8 months old (the video under 'wheeze'; the video showing flaring of the nostrils and pulling in under the ribcage; the video showing grunting and wheezing)
  • at 2 years old  (the video showing pulling in between each rib)
  • at 3 years (the video showing sucking or pulling in between each rib; the video showing using the muscles around the neck during breathing)

This page last reviewed 23 August 2019.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it