Blowing in Baby’s Face: Safety, Purpose and Why It Works

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Blowing softly on your baby’s face is considered a safe method to help with crying, divert their attention while cleaning their face, or soothe them to help them fall asleep.

Do not blow in your baby’s face if they are choking or you are sick. Always try to determine the reason for the crying and remedy the situation in a timely manner. 

Blowing in your baby’s face should be done gently (not forcefully) to avoid frightening them or making them feel uncomfortable.

Findings published in the Journal of Child Neurology state that:

“The diving reflex is highly prevalent in the first year of life and can be easily elicited by applying a flow of air over the infant’s face, particularly during crying.”

This diving reflex causes your baby to inhale sharply before holding their breath for a short period.

While the reflex is particularly beneficial when a baby is being taught to go underwater, it also is useful to calm crying jags and when washing their face or hair.

What Happens When You Blow in a Baby’s Face

Many babies might find air being blown in their faces surprising or amusing, and they may react with a giggle, a smile, or a startled expression. 

The sensation of air on their face can be interesting to them and may engage their senses.

It’s essential to be gentle and gauge the baby’s reaction as some babies may not enjoy the sensation and could become upset.

The Mammalian Diving Reflex

Air blown onto a baby’s face can trigger an in-built evolutionary adaptation known as the “diving reflex.”

This reflex is a set of physiological responses that occur when an infant is exposed to water, particularly when the face is submerged.

These responses consist of:

  • Bradycardia: The baby’s heart rate slows down in response to being in the water. This is a protective mechanism to conserve oxygen and prioritize the supply to essential organs, such as the brain.
  • Peripheral vasoconstriction: Blood vessels in the extremities constrict, directing blood flow toward the vital organs.
  • Apnea (temporary cessation of breathing): When a baby’s face is submerged in water, the diving reflex may cause the infant to hold their breath temporarily.

The mammalian diving reflex is perfectly natural, and research suggests that this reaction is usually outgrown by about 6 months.

How To Correctly Blow in Baby’s Face

Blowing in a baby’s face should be similar to blowing on a cup of water to watch the ripples and reverberations, not blowing with the force that could snuff out a candle.

An exception to the “gentle” blowing rule can be when your baby experiences a “breath-holding spell.”

These are frightening but momentary seizure-like episodes that may occur when intense crying causes your baby to hold his/her breath.

Research by the College of Family Physicians of Canada suggests that forcefully blowing air on an infant’s face may help to stop one of these spells in its tracks.

When NOT To Blow in Your Baby’s Face

There are three instances in which blowing in your baby’s face is not advisable.

1. If Your Baby Is Choking

You should never blow on the face of a baby who is choking.

Choking babies could sputter and further lodge food in their throats if they are startled.

There are several more appropriate responses to try when a baby is choking.

2. If You Are Sick With a Cold/Flu

Even with gentle blowing, saliva droplets are expelled into the air, risking passing a respiratory infection onto the baby.

If you have even a mild cold, hold off from blowing onto their face until you’re healthy.

3. If You Are Only Doing It To Stop the Crying

Babies cry to alert parents and caretakers of their needs. Meeting your child’s needs should always be the priority.

Rather than focus on making the crying stop, focus on determining the cause of the crying. 

When It’s Okay To Blow in Baby’s Face (& Benefits)

While blowing in your baby’s face should not become your go-to option to stop crying, there are definitely instances when it can be useful.

1. Helping Them Learn To Swim

Research suggests that blowing in your baby’s face might be the “path to swimming.”

Survival swim courses have shown that blowing in your baby’s face and then putting them underwater helps them swim easier and with less distress.

2. Putting Them To Sleep

Some babies may find the sensation of air on their faces comforting and may react positively to it. 

The gentle blowing can create a sensation similar to a gentle breeze, which might help calm them into a gentle slumber.

3. Washing Their Face

Blow on your baby’s face gently just before washing their face or rinsing their hair so they don’t inhale water accidentally.

4. Helping To Calm Crying Fits

The sensation of air on their face can surprise your baby or shift their attention, possibly interrupting their crying.

My twins’ pediatrician encouraged me to try this the last time they had their vaccinations, and it worked like a charm!

However, it’s crucial to note that not all babies will respond the same way, and the effectiveness of this method can vary.

Most importantly, try not to lean on this breathing trick as your go-to when your baby is crying.

It may only work some of the time, and it’s important to try and get to the root cause of why your baby is upset in the first place.

What To Do When Baby Stops Breathing While Crying

If your baby is in the middle of a “breath-holding spell” while crying, lay them on a flat surface, such as a crib or the floor.

Be sure your baby is not close to any sharp objects or something dangerous. Stay with your baby until the spell passes.

WebMD advises:

“Sometimes, blowing hard on your baby’s face can interrupt a breath-holding spell. But this won’t work for every baby, and it may not work for older children.”

Should your baby pass out, try to stay calm and make sure that your baby doesn’t have anything in their mouth that could cause them to choke.

If your baby has not breathed in over one minute or their face is turning blue, call 911 immediately. 

Reasons Why Babies Hold Their Breath

Most often, babies hold their breath as a sign of frustration or anger.

Other causes could be because the baby is in pain or has been startled by sudden stimuli or loud noises. Some common reasons include:

  • Feeding Issues: Some babies may briefly hold their breath during feeding, especially if they are breastfeeding and have a forceful letdown of milk. 
  • Sleeping Patterns: Babies might exhibit irregular breathing patterns during sleep, including brief pauses or breath-holding. This is usually normal and part of their developing respiratory control.
  • Temperament: Some babies may hold their breath in response to frustration or discomfort. This behavior might be more common in sensitive or easily overstimulated infants.

Alternative Ways To Calm Your Crying or Restless Baby

Firstly, determine if your baby is crying due to a medical or nonmedical issue.

Inspect your baby to see if something is too tight or if he or she needs to be changed.

  • Try feeding them: If your baby is rooting or turning their head into their parent’s chest, they are most likely hungry and need to be fed.
  • Swaddling, cuddling, or baby massage: These can all help calm a hysterical baby. If your baby is not hungry but finds the sucking reflex comforting, pacifiers may be very helpful. 
  • Use some white noise: Use calming sounds, such as a fan, gentle music, or a white noise machine. These sounds can mimic the comforting environment of the womb.
  • Change of environment: Sometimes a change of scenery can help. Take your baby for a short walk outside, move to a different room, or simply change their position.

Can I Blow in My Baby’s Mouth? 

There are not many reasons for blowing in your baby’s mouth.

Some mothers swear by the “mother’s kiss” in which they blow in their baby’s mouth to dislodge something in the baby’s nose.

Blowing air into a baby’s mouth is also a part of CPR and life-saving measures.

These two scenarios would be the only real reasons for blowing in your baby’s mouth.