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Why Does Your Baby Gasp For Air? Is It Normal?

The first time you see your baby gasp for air, it can be a bit alarming. They might gasp and breathe funny for a couple of seconds before everything returns to normal—the reason why your baby gasps for air is because they are not getting enough oxygen.

This could be caused by an obstruction in the airway, such as mucous if they have a cold. If you notice your baby gasp for air, it could also be a sign of certain medical conditions.

Upper Respiratory Infection

It’s common to see a baby gasp for air if they have an upper respiratory infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. A severe upper respiratory infection of any kind can result in your little one gasping for air.

Both of these result in strained breathing. Even though the airway is not obstructed, the bronchial tubes may become inflamed, or the lungs might be full of liquid from pneumonia.

baby with respiratory therapy


Asthma usually reminds you of older children wheezing as they try to engage in sports, but it can happen in babies. Every year, over 70% of children diagnosed with asthma are under the age of five years old.

This can start when they are a toddler, or when they are an infant. If you notice your little one gasping for air and suspect asthma, it’s essential to contact your pediatrician immediately.

Smoking Cigarettes Around The Baby

We all know that smoking a cigarette in the same room as a baby can cause asthma, ear infections, and increases the risk of things like strep throat, but it can also make a baby gasp for air.

Even if your little one doesn’t have asthma, they might still have difficulty breathing in a room full of cigarette smoke. If you can’t go outside to smoke, go to another room when smoking cigarettes. It’s also advised that you wear a different shirt when smoking.

Consider keeping a smoking hoody or baggy t-shirt in the room that you smoke in. You can easily slip it on over your clothes, smoke, and then take it off again when you’re done. If you smoke indoors, an air filter is a necessity.

Too Much Mucous

Babies have small throats and narrow airway passages, making it difficult for them to breathe if they have more mucous than usual. An underlying condition usually causes this. For example, asthma results in an increased level of mucous.

So do most upper respiratory infections, colds, and allergies. If your baby is snotty and has a hard time breathing, contact your doctor. In the meantime, use a nasal aspirator to help get some of the snot out.

Why Does A Baby Gasp For Air While Eating?

Some babies, especially younger infants, take a bit longer to breathe, sucking, and swallowing. This can lead to them holding their breath for short periods while they are eating.

Then, they will take a break from eating to breathe. Because they were holding their breath, they will gasp for air when they do breathe. Most babies can both eat and breathe at the same time, but some have problems.


This is a condition in babies caused by your little one’s tissue around the vocal cords being softer than it usually would. This can make it harder for them to breathe.

Other symptoms also include squeaking, the tissue in the neck withdrawing and inflating with every breath, and difficulties gaining weight. This is a common condition in preemie babies.

Usually, it resolves itself by the time they are nine months old. It requires a diagnosis from a doctor.

a small child is coughing

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, has several symptoms. One of them is that infants cannot breathe for short periods. This may occur when they are awake or asleep.

One of the distinctive features of whooping cough is that when children cough, it has a whooping sound, hence the name. They may also have:

  • congestion
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • watery eyes

Some vaccinations help protect children from whooping cough, but some children will still get it.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed in infants. Children and teens can have it as well, like adults. One of the primary symptoms of sleep apnea is that a person will stop breathing in their sleep.

This could be caused by a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which is the result of the tissues in the throat or airway being too soft. This causes them to block off the airway. A problem with the brainstem can also cause this.

If that is the case, there is no cure. However, a breathing machine can be used at night for safety. A doctor will perform a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is why you saw your baby gasp for air.

They’re A Preemie

It’s common to see a preemie baby gasp for air. This is because they were born premature, so their respiratory system is also premature.

The result is that they will gasp for air, breathing heavily for a moment, and then breathing normally again. As preemie babies get older, their respiratory system will catch up, and the situation will resolve itself.

If you see your baby gasp for air, and they do not immediately begin breathing afterward, they need emergency medical attention.


Gastrointestinal reflux is another common problem in babies that will make a baby gasp for air. This is a problem with the digestive tract. It usually results in them spitting up every time they eat as well. Sometimes, this condition resolved itself.

Other times, it can last until your little one becomes an adult. (Then it is called GERD.) Although there is no cure for acid reflux in infants, there are some common solutions to help your little one feel better.

Proper Positioning

Babies tend to lie down a lot, which is normal. However, it can make your little one’s reflux MUCH worse. When holding your baby, lift them in your arms so that they are not lying down.

You can also raise the head of their bassinet or crib so that they do not fall flat. Make sure that your pediatrician approves this before doing it.

baby being breastfed

Set Them Up While Feeding

Babies with reflux tend to experience more severe symptoms when they lay on their backs. This is more so when they are feeding, or have a full stomach. Because of this, it’s vital to have them sit up as much as possible during this process.

To sit your little one up while feeding them a bottle, hold them sitting up. Then, tilt their head back slightly to feed them. You can also pick up a bottle with an angle to make it easier to feed them in this position.

Do Not Lay Them Down After Feeding Them

It’s natural to lay down a baby once they are done feeding. They look sleepy, their eyelids are droopy, and no one wants their baby to get used to being held while they are asleep.

Unfortunately, this can give a baby with reflux an upset stomach and make symptoms worse. Instead, hold them slightly upright in your arms for half an hour after feeding them. Then, lay them down.

Consider Switching Formula

If your baby spits up a lot, consider switching formula. Before making the switch, discuss it with your pediatrician. If your child spits up with every feeding, Similac has a specially designed formula for this.

If your baby has lactose intolerance or other digestive issues along with spitting up, this will call for something else. Usually, parents wind up with Similac for Spit Up or a hypoallergenic, non-GMO formula to help their babies feel better.

Gripe Water

Gripe water is known for helping fussy babies, and that includes babies with reflux. Gripe water can help babies that suffer from several symptoms of reflux, including if you see your baby gasp for air.

This is because it works to relax the entire body, including the digestive tract responsible for reflux. This can also help babies with colic, gas, or fussiness.

Another huge bonus is that it’s pretty cheap, and it won’t hurt your baby. It never hurts to give gripe water a shot.

When To Call The Doctor

Most parents wonder when they should call the doctor if they see their baby gasp for air. The answer is always. There are so many different conditions that can make your baby gasp for air that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Every condition that makes your baby gasp for air requires a medical diagnosis. Pay attention when you see your baby gasp for air and what they are doing. If they ever turn blue, and any other details, you can tell your doctor during your appointment.

When you see your baby gasp for air, it can be alarming. The first time I saw my grandson do this, it was scary. It turned out that it was normal for him because he was a preemie, and on a ventilator, which made him squeak. He’s fine now.

Other children, even preemies, might not be so lucky. It could be sleep apnea or something more serious. That is why it’s essential to contact your pediatrician as soon as possible.

Medical Disclaimer. All content and media on is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.