Baby Panting When Excited | When It’s Normal & When To Worry

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Babies often pant when experiencing excitement, as this is a normal and instinctual response.

Breathing rate naturally increases during times of excitement, and babies enjoy exploring new sounds and how their bodies work. Panting is often the result.

However, a baby’s breathing can resemble a pant in times of excitement, arousal, or distress, so it’s critical to be familiar with signs of breathing difficulty. 

If you are concerned about your baby’s breathing, Healthline offers this advice:

  • Learn your child’s typical breathing patterns so you’re better prepared to identify what’s not typical.
  • Take a video of your baby’s breathing and show it to a doctor. 
  • Always have your baby sleep on their back. 
  • Saline drops, sold over the counter at drugstores, can help loosen thick mucus if you suspect that is the cause of panting.
  • Sometimes, babies breathe fast when they’re overheated or upset.
  • Seek immediate medical care if something seems wrong.

When I first saw one of my boys panting while playing, I was instantly concerned.

However, his brother soon started doing the same thing, especially when our dogs were nearby.

I quickly realized that their panting was simply a behavior they had just learned and they were having fun practicing it! It was adorable!

Baby Panting When Excited

There are different types of “panting” that we see in babies, and each is usually triggered by something either externally or internally. 

Why Babies Pant When Excited

You may have seen your little one begin to breathe more rapidly when they are noticeably excited about something. This is normal.

Even in adults, breathing speeds up when emotions such as excitement are triggered.

Human emotions involve a number of physiological changes in the body, and respiration is one of the physiological processes that is altered by our emotions.

The relationship between emotions and respiration has shown more rapid breathing during an arousal state. 

This relationship was further explained by a 2017 study that detected a tiny cluster of neurons in the brainstem that link respiration to excitement and other emotions.

These neurons detect changes in emotion that trigger an entire brain-body response.

In simpler terms, when we get excited, the neurons act as messengers and tell our brains that we should be breathing faster. 

So, why the panting sound? Why isn’t an increased respiration rate in babies quiet like it is in adults?

Younger babies can only breathe through their nose and, therefore, have very little airways, which makes for noisy breathing.

If they are breathing rapidly, it could sound like panting.

Older babies who are able to breathe through their mouths may be making the panting sound because they are still discovering how their body works.

They may be exploring making a new sound or may be doing it for a reaction. 

Baby Panting Is Normal

More often than not, panting is normal behavior for babies.

As long as your baby seems to be in good spirits and the panting is not accompanied by signs of respiratory distress or other symptoms of illness, the rapid breathing is normal.

When Panting Is Usually Seen in Babies

You may begin to notice what seems like true “panting” between the ages of 6 and 18 months.

These are large developmental months with many significant milestones and bodily changes.

Beginning at 6 months, babies are usually beginning to crawl and are becoming more aware of their bodies.

They are discovering how to express certain emotions in order to communicate.

They are also more interactive with those around them and may seek reactions from parents or caretakers.

Babies may begin to pant at this age when they begin crawling or when they get excited about something.

Babies may use the panting sound to express their excitement or to elicit a reaction, such as a laugh, from their parents or caretakers. 

A “panting” sound may also be heard from a newborn baby, which can be alarming for new parents.

Newborns naturally breathe more rapidly because they have a very small lung capacity.

They will take a lot of rapid, shallow breaths as if they were panting.

This can happen randomly in infants or may be triggered by distress or emotional arousal. 

Is Baby Panting Harmful? 

Rapid breathing is only harmful to a baby if it becomes a sign of respiratory distress, meaning that the baby is struggling to get air.

At this point, rapid breathing will be accompanied by other signs, such as:

  • Flaring nostrils
  • Breathing louder than usual
  • Pulling in their chest muscles to breathe and making their ribs more visible
  • Clammy skin
  • Open mouth
  • Changes in behavior
  • Fever
  • Changes in the color of skin, lips, or tongue.

If you notice that your baby seems to be struggling to get air, is breathing rapidly, and displaying any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Why Babies Pant When Hungry 

Your baby may begin to breathe more rapidly when they are having difficulty nursing or do not get a bottle right away.

In these cases, it is not likely the hunger that is triggering the panting but rather the emotional arousal of being distressed from not being able to get a good latch or get their bottle right away.

Panting could also be an expression of their excitement when they know that a meal is imminent. 

Why Babies Pant When Crawling 

It takes a lot of energy to crawl all over the place!

When babies are crawling or beginning to walk, they are exerting themselves more and, thus, need more oxygen.

This may result in them breathing more rapidly.

Also, as babies get older and begin to reach crawling age, they are also learning how to breathe through their mouths.

This type of breathing, especially when accompanied by a lot of movement, could sound a lot like panting. 

When To Be Concerned About Your Baby’s Breathing

We have discussed several instances where rapid breathing or panting in a baby is normal and not a cause for alarm.

However, your little one’s breathing can also be an indicator that something is wrong.

It is important to be mindful of the signs of respiratory distress and watch for them in order to prevent any harm to your child. 

Breathing That Is Too Fast

If you count more than 60 breaths per minute while monitoring your baby’s breathing, seek medical attention. 

Breathing That Is Too Slow

The opposite of rapid breathing could also be potentially harmful. Slow breathing is normal for a baby who is in deep sleep.

However, if it slows to 22 breaths per minute and your baby does not wake easily, it is probably time to take a trip to the ER.

Watch especially for a blue color in the face, lips, and tongue. 

Grunting, Wheezing, or Stridor

If a baby is grunting or wheezing, it could be an indicator of a bigger problem.

Stridor, which is a high-pitched sound while breathing in, is also something to look out for.

These could all be signs of a more serious underlying condition. 

Labored Breathing

Labored breathing means that your baby is visibly struggling to breathe and each breath seems to require a lot of effort.

Indicators of labored breathing include:

  • Flared nostrils
  • Chest retractions (the area beneath your baby’s ribs and neck sinks in with each attempt to inhale)
  • Head bobbing with breaths and sweating
  • Drooling excessively
  • Leaning forward in the tripod position while having difficulty breathing. 

Apnea

We’ve discussed that pauses in a baby’s breathing are perfectly normal. Long pauses are not normal.

Long pauses are an indicator of apnea (pauses lasting more than 20 seconds).

If your baby stops breathing for more than 20 seconds, seek medical attention.

Even if she resumes breathing normally afterward, it would still be wise to have a doctor determine the underlying cause of her long respiratory pauses.

Apnea is usually accompanied by a color change in the face and lips.

A young mother keeps her hand on her baby's chest while watching him sleep.

Baby Breathing Patterns

It’s completely normal to be hyper-focused on your baby’s breathing, especially during the first few months of their life.

Knowing what is normal and what is not could help bring you some peace of mind.

Periodic Breathing in Babies

Have you ever just been sitting there, admiring your newborn baby, and then, all of a sudden, it seems like they stop breathing for a few seconds?

Your heart probably stopped for those seconds that may have felt like an eternity.

It is important to remember that babies breathe much more rapidly than adults and they also have very irregular breathing patterns.

It is very common for a baby to breathe rapidly for several breaths, pause for about 10 seconds, and then resume normal breathing.

These repeated cycles of breathing and pausing are called periodic breathing. 

Scientifically, periodic breathing is defined as three breathing pauses of at least 3 seconds within a 20-second breathing cycle.

The pauses typically range from 3-10 seconds.

Any pauses over 20 seconds are considered apnea, which is a serious condition that needs medical attention.

Periodic breathing, however, is very normal, and the events get fewer and farther apart as infants get older. 

Baby Breathing Fast While Sleeping

If you have ever watched your baby sleep, you may have noticed that her sleep pattern is different from yours.

She may twitch, move, and make a few noises while she tries to settle into a deep sleep. 

There are four stages of baby sleep. As your baby moves through these four stages, you will notice changes in her breathing and movement.

You will see the most rapid breathing in Stage 2, which is REM, or active, sleep.

It is usually during active sleep that you see periodic breathing in young infants.

Breathing will seem irregular with 5-10 seconds of non-breathing followed by rapid breathing for another 10-15 seconds. This is perfectly normal.

Once your baby reaches stage 4, deep non-REM sleep, her breathing will be more regular and slow to its normal rate. 

Baby Breathing Stomach Rising

If you watch an adult breathe, you will see much more chest movement than stomach movement.

That is because adults rely on the diaphragm and other chest muscles to breathe.

Babies, however, breathe through their noses and rely heavily on their abdominal muscles to take deep breaths.

This causes their stomach to rise and fall while they are breathing. 

Baby Breathing Fast With Fever

Your little one has a spiked fever, and you notice that she is breathing a little faster than normal. This is to be expected.

If your baby has a fever, it likely means that her body is fighting an infection.

Fever makes every process in the body work a little harder to get the infection out — including respiration. 

In the early 1900s, scientists discovered that respiratory rate is positively correlated with body temperature.

As body temperature rises, breathing becomes more rapid.

When a child has a fever, they will breathe faster, and their heart rate will also increase.

A baby with a fever will look like they are having difficulty breathing because fever stimulates the respiratory muscles to work harder and increase both the rate and depth of breathing.

This is a normal reaction to a fever and as long as your baby’s respiratory rate does not exceed 60 breaths per minute, is not a huge reason for concern.

Baby Nose Breathing

Babies are obligate nose breathers for the first few months of their lives. This means that they primarily breathe through their noses rather than their mouths. 

This is because a newborn’s nasal passages are very small, and breathing through the nose helps regulate airflow and humidity and helps prevent foreign objects from entering their airways.

Around 3 to 6 months of age, babies start to develop the ability to breathe through their mouths as well.

However, even after this age, they still tend to primarily breathe through their noses, especially during periods of rest or sleep. 

As they continue to grow and develop, their respiratory system becomes more efficient and adaptable, allowing them to breathe comfortably through both their nose and mouth.

Normal Breathing Rate for Babies

A baby’s breathing rate will be the fastest during the newborn stage and will continue to decrease as she gets older.

Generally speaking, for babies younger than one year, a normal heart rate should not exceed 60 bpm or drop below 30 bpm.

As they enter toddlerhood, their breathing will slow down. 

  • Normal Breathing Rate for Newborns: 30-60 bpm
  • Normal Breathing Rate for Babies 3-6 Months: 33-55 bpm
  • Normal Breathing Rate for Babies 6-9 Months: 31-52 bpm
  • Normal Breathing Rate for Toddlers: 20-40 bpm

Other Funny Behaviors You May Notice as Your Baby Grows

Babies are hilarious and do some pretty wacky things. It will seem like there is a new thing every day.

You may notice a few of these behaviors and sounds as your little one continues to learn how to use her body and interact with the world around her: 

  • Crossed eyes in newborns
  • Gagging sounds even if they are not eating or drinking
  • Touching their genitals
  • Flailing arms in their sleep or when startled
  • Standing and unable to sit back down
  • Shivers
  • Coughing to trigger a reaction from others
  • Babbling in “baby talk” or making cute, nonsensical sounds
  • Mimicking facial expressions, like sticking out their tongue or puffing up their cheeks
  • Grabbing onto their own toes and trying to put them in their mouths
  • Being fascinated with everyday objects, like being more interested in the box a toy came in than the actual toy
  • Experiencing a mix of joy and confusion when they discover their own hands and fingers
  • Being surprised at games like peek-a-boo and Jack-in-the-box again and again
  • Reacting to their own reflection in amusing ways, such as trying to “play” or converse with the baby they see in the mirror
  • Trying to mimic the sounds and gestures they see adults making, often resulting in unintentional comedy
  • Trying to crawl before they are physically ready 

When Do Babies Develop a Sense of Humor?

By 3-4 months of age, babies will begin to giggle.

By the age of 7 months, they will intentionally use their faces, bodies, and voices to make adults laugh or smile.

By the end of their first year, babies will find it funny when social rules are broken or when people do something out of the ordinary. 

When Do Babies Develop Imagination?

A baby’s entire first year of life is a time to cultivate and develop their imagination.

From birth, babies show interest in the world around them and take in their surroundings.

As they get more mobile, they begin to explore and play, which is the predominant way that they learn and develop.

You will know that your baby’s imagination is developing as she starts to experiment with new sights, sounds, activities, and objects.

She will also learn basic problem-solving skills and have a greater understanding of her feelings as well as those of the people around her.