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The Respiratory System in Babies

The Respiratory System in Babies

What is respiration?

Respiration is the act of breathing in and out. When you breathe in, you take in oxygen. When you breathe out, you give off carbon dioxide.

What makes up the respiratory system?

Front view of baby with head turned showing respiratory anatomy. Inset shows closeup of bronchiole and alveoli.

The respiratory system is made up of the organs that take part in gas exchange:

  • Nose

  • Mouth

  • Throat (pharynx)

  • Voice box (larynx)

  • Windpipe (trachea)

  • Airways (bronchi)

  • Lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • Nose

  • Air-filled space above and behind the nose (nasal cavity)

  • Sinuses

The lower respiratory tract includes the:

  • Voice box

  • Windpipe

  • Lungs

  • Airways (bronchi)

  • Air sacs (alveoli)

What do the lungs do?

The lungs take in oxygen. The body's cells need oxygen to live and carry out their normal functions. They also get rid of carbon dioxide. This is a waste product of the cells.

The lungs are 2 cone-shaped organs. They're made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm). They're inside a membrane called the pleura.

The lungs are separated by an area (mediastinum) that has:

  • Heart and its large vessels

  • Windpipe

  • Food pipe (esophagus)

  • Thymus gland

  • Lymph nodes

The right lung has 3 lobes. The left lung has 2 lobes. When you breathe, the air:

  • Enters the body through the nose or mouth

  • Travels down the throat through the voice box and windpipe

  • Goes into the lungs through tubes (mainstem bronchi):

    • One of these tubes goes to the right lung and 1 goes to the left lung

    • In the lungs, these tubes divide into smaller bronchi

    • Then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles

    • Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli

Breathing in babies

An important part of a baby's lung development is the production of surfactant. This is a substance made by the cells in the small airways. By about 35 weeks of pregnancy, most babies have developed enough surfactant. It's normally released into the lung tissues. There it helps to keep the air sacs open. Premature babies may not have enough surfactant in their lungs. They may have trouble breathing.

Reviewed Date: 03-01-2024

The Respiratory System in Babies
Dr. Faysal Akbik
Dr. Rachel Armentrout
Dr. Kathryn Colacchio
Dr. Susannah Dillender
Dr. C W Gowen
Dr. Glen Green
Dr. Jamil Khan
Dr. Kaitlin Ryan-Smith
Dr. Kirk Sallas
Dr. Tushar Shah
Dr. Brett Siegfried
Dr. Kenneth Tiffany
Dr. Lana Zhang-Brofft
Dr. Frank Chocano
Dr. Carlos Sendon
Dr. Cynthia Spoolman
Diseases & Conditions
Acute Respiratory Disorders
Anatomy of a Newborn Baby’s Skull
Anatomy of the Respiratory System in Children
Assessments for Newborn Babies
Baby's Care After Birth
Breast Milk Collection and Storage
Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production
Breastfeeding at Work
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Baby
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Mother
Breastfeeding Your Baby
Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby
Breastfeeding: Getting Started
Breathing Problems
Care of the Baby in the Delivery Room
Caring for Babies in the NICU
Caring for Newborn Multiples
Common Conditions and Complications
Common Procedures
Congenital Heart Disease Index
Difficulty with Latching On or Sucking
Digestive Disorders
Fever in a Newborn Baby
Hearing Loss in Babies
Hearing Screening Tests for Newborns
Heart Disorders
High-Risk Newborn Blood Disorders
Infant Feeding Guide
Infant of a Mother with Diabetes
Infant Play
Infant Sleep
Infection in Babies
Inguinal Hernia in Children
Keeping Your Baby Warm
Male Conditions
Megaureter in Children
Micropenis in Children
Neurological Disorders in the Newborn
Newborn Appearance
Newborn Babies: Getting Ready at Home
Newborn Behaviors and Activities
Newborn Complications
Newborn Crying
Newborn Health Assessment
Newborn Measurements
Newborn Reflexes
Newborn Screening Tests
Newborn Senses
Newborn Sleep Patterns
Newborn Warning Signs
Physical Exam of the Newborn
Pregnancy and Medical Conditions
Preparing for Your New Baby
Preparing the Family
Respiratory Disorders in the Newborn
Skin Color Changes
Substance Exposure
Taking Your Baby Home from the NICU
The Growing Child: Newborn
The Lungs
Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children
Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn
Umbilical Cord Care
Upper Respiratory Disorders
Vision and Hearing
When to Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.