What are the Signs of Respiratory Distress in a Baby or Child?

Unwell child

Many thanks to Kids First Aid Australia for this article.

Respiratory distress in babies and children is a medical emergency!! But how do you know that they are struggling to breathe? Do you know the signs?

On many occasions, working as a paramedic, I have attended children who are desperately sick and parents are so unsure of the signs that they tend to call us much later than we would like. As parents, we desperately want everything to be alright and so many tend to downplay the signs hoping that it will get better on its own……

Well it usually won’t. Here are some things to remember….

Children Are Not Little Adults

They won’t appear in the same way an adult will if they were having an asthma attack for example. This is why it is so important to learn and refresh your first aid skills concentrating on babies and children.

  • Never hesitate to call 000. No – you won’t be faster (unless you live next door to the hospital) and we are happy to attend even if they don’t need to go to hospital. Think of an ambulance as a mini hospital ….and it might be right outside your door when you call. Please don’t waste extra time putting the child in the car and driving them to a GP – they will usually call us immediately anyway.
  • Try really hard to remain calm. I have worked as a paramedic for 15 years and I can tell on every scene if there if someone with first aid skills – they are usually the one that is not screaming and panicking. Get first aid savvy…. and get the skills from a paramedic.
  • Know the signs of respiratory distress in babies and children.

Things to look for in kids experiencing respiratory distress –

  • Quiet kids are sick kids….they continually remind of this in our training (except of course if there are burns/traumatic injuries like broken bones).
  • Kids that are struggling to breath are pale and are sometimes blue/grey around their lips and nose.
  • They have what is known as tracheal tug. This is where they have obvious sucking in at the front of their throats.
  • Take off their tops and view their WHOLE CHEST. It is easy to see if there is retractions (sucking in and out) between the ribs. If present call 000.
  • Often they have ‘noisy breathing’ – most commonly they have GRUNTING breaths – but be careful, sometimes there is little or no noise!

If you think that your child (or a child that you are caring for) is struggling to breathe at all, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call 000. The thing to remember is that little ones get really really sick really really quickly.

The one way you can easily make a BIG difference is to learn first aid and CPR for kids….. What could be more important?


Katie – paramedic/mum/director kids first aid (not necessarily in that order!).

The Parenting 101 section of our site offers many tips, tricks and important information to help you along the path of your parenting journey, including 10 Ways to Get Your Kids Eating More Vegies and What are the Signs of Dehydration in a Baby or Child?

You Might Also Enjoy...

Tell All Your Friends About This!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Keep Up To Date With Brisbane Kids!