Respiratory distress of the baby


Respiratory distress is a life-threatening condition that can have many different causes. This applies to babies as well as adults. However, unlike adults, breathing difficulties in babies present with other symptoms.

Some causes of shortness of breath are specific to babies and infants and do not occur in older children. The treatment of shortness of breath is usually an acute emergency situation and often requires the emergency services. Occasionally intensive medical treatment is necessary.


The causes of shortness of breath in babies can be many and varied. Basically it is an undersupply of oxygen to the body. The body constantly measures the proportion of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood vessels and thus triggers a stimulus to breathe.

If the normal route of oxygen uptake via the lungs is blocked or the regulation of breathing does not function properly, breathing difficulties occur. Common causes in babies are swallowing of foreign bodies, blocked airways from the outside or, in premature births, the lack of respiratory stimulus. In addition to foreign bodies brought in from outside, self-produced mucus can also obstruct the airways and cause breathing difficulties.

Mucus can be increasingly produced by various clinical pictures: Premature babies in particular often do not yet possess the muscular strength of the respiratory assistance muscles. This makes it difficult or even impossible to expectorate the mucus. The respiratory tract of the affected children must be partially aspirated and ventilated.

  • Colds
  • Respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma)
  • Allergies

While adults breathe through the nose and mouth, infants are still pure nasal breathers. If the nose is blocked by a cold, babies cannot take in enough air through the mouth and the oxygen level in the blood drops. This triggers respiratory distress, as babies need more oxygen than they can take in through breathing.

This might be of interest to you: What to do if my baby has a cold? Whooping cough is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella Pertussis. In the first stage, it is a normal cold, which means that whooping cough is often not detected early enough.

In the second stage there are convulsive coughing attacks, during which the children are unable to absorb enough oxygen. In extreme cases, this can lead to a convulsion of the glottis, which acutely leads to suffocation. The shortness of breath with whooping cough can be life-threatening, but the outbreak of the disease can be prevented by vaccination.

Serious complications with vaccinations are very rare. In some cases, however, the vaccination can trigger a flu-like infection and thus increase mucus production again. Babies can have difficulty catching a breath. In very rare cases, vaccination can trigger an allergic reaction involving the respiratory tract because of the foreign protein. This is an acute emergency.