How to Count Respiratory Rate

What is a patient's respiratory rate? This is the number of breaths a patient takes per minute. If you tell a patient, "I'm going to see how many times you are breathing in one minute. Now breathe normally."  Do you think they're going to breathe normally?  Probably not.  What I like to do is feel for their pulse (and count it) and then proceed to count their respirations afterwards. Then the patient doesn't even know you are counting how quickly they are breathing.  

Normal Rates:

  • Newborn: 30-60 breaths per minute
  • Infant (1 to 12 months): 30-60 breaths per minute
  • Toddler (1-2 years): 24-40 breaths per minute
  • Preschooler (3-5 years): 22-34 breaths per minute
  • School-age child (6-12 years): 18-30 breaths per minute
  • Adolescent (13-17 years): 12-16 breaths per minute
  • Adult: 12-18 breaths per minute

Why would someone be breathing too quickly or too slowly? 

Too slowly: Sleeping, oversedation, medication effect, brain damage, alcohol intoxication, sleep apnea, and acid-base imbalance with the patient too alkalotic (basic) to name a few. 

Too quickly: Pain, anxiety, respiratory failure, acid-base imbalance with the patient too acidic, medication effects, fever, dehydration, heart conditions, and many other reasons.