Why Do Babies Gasp for Air While Sleeping?

The question, ‘Why Do Babies Gasp for Air While Sleeping?’ arises due to parents’ concerns about their infants’ sleeping habits. Babies gasp for air for various reasons and not all are harmful. Some of their breathing patterns may seem unusual, especially during their sleep. They may simply be in the rapid eye movement stage or responding to an external stimulus.

While this may be a cause for concern to their parents, babies tend to outgrow them with time, but a prolonged and discomforting one may necessitate visiting a doctor.

As we go on, you would learn some other reasons a baby may gasp for air, either during their sleep or even while awake. Also, we would share tips on what to do in such cases to relieve the situation (especially when intense) and watch your baby fare just fine again.


Why Do Babies Gasp for Air While Sleeping?

Babies’ sleeping habits can be a source of concern for parents. One common phenomenon is babies gasping for air while sleeping. Let’s explore the possible reasons behind this behavior and understand when it’s normal or requires attention.


Why Does My Baby Randomly Sound Like Gasping for Air?

Newborns gasp for air since they have a respiratory system that is yet to be fully developed. A very instrumental organ to breathing, the lungs, is usually still immature at the time of birth. This makes their breathing irregular and causes them to gasp for air once in a while as a way of controlling their breathing.

Babies may gasp as a reflex to noise or a fall. Gasping during sleep is normal in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, their deepest sleep phase. They also make gasping sounds to clear their airways when liquid or mucus is stuck in their throat.

You may notice that your baby gasps for air during feeding. In such cases when babies are feeding, they pause to take breaths and this may sound like gasping for air. This can occur either during breastfeeding or using a bottle. The gasping here, of course, is not a cause for alarm. The baby is only trying to regulate its feeding and breathing at the same time.

If you are breastfeeding, ensure the baby is rightly placed in your arms to avoid choking them up. In the case of bottle feeding, you want to be sure that the nipple size is okay and not rush the formula down the baby’s throat. Also, ensure that the bottle is held down to mimic breastfeeding to avoid choking on the food.

Environmental factors like temperature and unclean air may also be a cause for babies gasping for air. Moving them from warm to cold rooms, or exposing them to a smoky or dusty environment may make them struggle to breathe. This is why it is advisable to ensure that babies are kept in clean and warm environments. For all of the reasons mentioned, gasping for breath is usually the baby’s way of adjusting to an internal or external condition.

Exceptional cases may be that of nasal or respiratory tract infections and other medical conditions which should be given attention and reported to medical practitioners as soon as possible.

Read Also: Best Sleeping Position For Colic Baby


Why Does My Baby Gasp During Sleep?

Your baby may gasp during sleep for diverse reasons. One is during rapid eye movement (REM). This is the deepest phase of sleep and irregular breathing for a baby is possible here. This is considered normal and may cause the baby to gasp occasionally but the breathing should return to normal thereafter. It only becomes a cause for concern if the breathing continues to seize.

Another thing that could be responsible for a baby gasping during sleep is known as sleep apnea. This is a breathing disorder that causes shallow breaths or pauses in breathing while asleep. This makes them wake up to breathe at intervals, thereby interrupting their sleep. Some of the symptoms include snoring loudly (which is quite unusual in babies), labored breathing, choking, and gasping for air while asleep. Sleep apnea may be due to obstructions in the flow of air into the lungs whenever the throat muscles relax (Obstructive sleep apnea).

When this happens, the baby may begin to look pale because it is not getting enough oxygen into the blood for normal bodily functions. Sometimes, it may be because the brain is not signaling the body to breathe, a condition known as central sleep apnea. Babies with smoking mothers during pregnancy or born prematurely may be prone to central sleep apnea.

Premature babies are known to have underdeveloped central nervous systems and so have breathing difficulties. Aggravated sleep apnea can be life-threatening and so should be treated early enough. Lack of treatment is likely to result in complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also cause fatigue and dullness. Asthma (which is possible at infancy) can also be a reason for difficulty in breathing, thereby resulting in gasping sounds.

Read Also: How Much Sleep Is Too Much For a Sick Baby? 


What to do when baby is gasping for air

You may have to do something as quickly as possible, especially when it seems persistent. Firstly, you need to be calm. You can only help the baby when you as a caregiver is not panicking. Next, you want to do some first aid by checking their airways. For airway obstruction, perform choking first aid using back blows and chest thrusts to oust the object.

If after doing this, the baby is still gasping for air, then do not hesitate to dial the emergency number. Do not delay! Peradventure the baby stops breathing completely or even becomes unresponsive, you will need to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (which involves rescue breaths and chest compressions). Seek trained assistance for this task; if untrained, find someone nearby who can perform it safely.

If the baby is still breathing but in a labored manner, you may try positioning it in a way that eases breathing and helps to clear the airway. You can do this by supporting the head or neck. In most instances, people rush to give water thinking it is a helpful option at that moment. However, avoid giving any liquid till they start breathing fine so you do not worsen the situation.

After you must have tried all the available care techniques and the baby’s breathing stabilizes, you may want to further seek medical attention for examination and adequate diagnosis. This would help you to get to the root cause and prevent complications early enough.


Baby Making Gasping Sounds but Breathing Fine While Sleeping

Babies may make gasping sounds even when they are breathing fine and this in most cases, is nothing to worry about. Since it is normal to be curious about what exactly is the cause for that and to keep you from worrying, here are some likely causes: Newborns make gasping sounds due to immature lungs, occasionally pausing breaths to regulate breathing and control their airflow. Loud noise or falling can trigger reflex responses, causing babies to gasp in their sleep.

Aside from this, while you are busy worrying about why your baby is gasping in sleep, it may be that your baby is already in the rapid eye movement stage and wandering into dreamland (interesting, right?). So, this is why you should keep your mind at rest. Your baby is totally fine.

Other times, it is possible that they have mucus or liquid stuck in their throats and are trying to get rid of it. This makes the breathing kind of noisy and they give a gasping sound. This is why you have to place them in the right sleeping position by making them lie on their backs and not face down. Neck support on their cribs will also be fine for easy respiration.

Lastly, who says their breathing cannot come with some gasps and noises when they are asleep? They are only babies and their body system is always adjusting to one process or the other. It only becomes a cause for concern when it is persistent, disturbing, and choking.

Read Also: How Long Should I Let My Baby Sleep After Vaccinations?


Conclusion on: Why Do Babies Gasp for Air While Sleeping?

While it is great to want to monitor your baby either while asleep or awake, avoid being unnecessarily worried at the slightest sound. Babies, as they grow, would always make some sounds (including gasping) in response to their environment and bodily processes. This does not mean that they are not fine.

However, when you begin to notice very unusual and persistent breathing patterns, do not hesitate to seek medical advice. This would prevent you from making wrong guesses and as well diagnose the problem properly while avoiding complications. Prevent breathing problems by positioning the baby properly, avoiding smoking, and using the right bottle-feeding method.