At what age do babies stop breathing through their nose?
Newborns and infants are natural nose breathers. The sight of a serenely sleeping baby breathing solely through their nose is endearing. But this changes as a child grows. So when does mouth breathing kick in?
Nasal breathing is the optimal form of respiration. It filters, humidifies and slows down airflow for efficient oxygen absorption. Babies utilize these inherent benefits automatically.
However, around toddlerhood, mouth breathing emerges and often becomes the default. This frequently persists into adulthood unfortunately, despite the disadvantages.
So what causes babies to transition from being exclusive nose breathers to habitual mouth breathers?
The Switch From Nose to Mouth Breathing
There is no set age when babies abandon nasal respiration for mouth breathing. But the shift tends to occur between 18 months and 3 years.
Multiple factors drive this including:
Anatomical Face Changes
As a toddler’s jaws grow, the airway space decreases. This can impede air flow through the nose, encouraging mouth breathing.
Emergence of Allergies
Allergic rhinitis emerges in many children between 1-3 years old. The resulting congestion pushes mouth breathing.
Introduction to Daycare or School
Exposure to new viruses and bacteria leads to frequent colds and stuffy noses. Mouth breathing often provides relief.
Toddlers transitioning from the crib to a bed often switch to mouth breathing during sleep.
Airborne particles, chemicals and pollution may spur mouth breathing in sensitive children.
More processed foods and dairy can increase nasal congestion and prompt the mouth breathing habit.
Signals Your Child Has Transitioned to Mouth Breathing
Look for these signs your toddler may have adopted mouth breathing:
- Open lips when concentrating or playing
- Regular snoring or noisy breathing
- Restless, interrupted sleep
- Bedwetting incidents
- Crooked teeth or bite issues
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Dry lips or mouth
Health Risks of Mouth Breathing for Children
Kids who mouth breathe face increased risks for:
- Sleep disordered breathing – snoring, sleep apnea, interrupted sleep
- Behavior and cognitive problems – ADHD, poor concentration, moodiness
- Malocclusion – misaligned jaws and teeth, need for braces
- Reduced immunity – more coughs, colds and infection
- Halitosis – bad breath
- Facial deformities – long face, dark circles under eyes
Prolonged mouth breathing prevents normal jaw, tooth and facial development. This can lead to serious orthodontic issues.
How to Encourage Nose Breathing in Children
If your child has switched to chronic mouth breathing, work on gently transitioning back to nasal breathing through:
- Having them mimic your own nose breathing
- Doing playful ‘sniffing games’ with aromatic flowers or foods
- Singing songs and reading stories that incorporate deep nasal breaths
- Keeping allergen triggers like dust and pet dander minimized
- Avoiding dairy, wheat and sugar which can worsen congestion
- Using saline drops and aspirators to clear stuffy noses as needed
- Consulting an ENT specialist if nasal obstruction is chronic
- Considering myofunctional therapy to retrain proper tongue position
With patience and creativity, aim to return your child’s breathing balance towards the nose during sleep, play and focus time. This supports normal development.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for toddlers to mouth breathe?
It’s common for toddlers to switch to mouth breathing due to anatomy changes or allergies. But nasal breathing is ideal and should be encouraged.
Can mouth breathing in children be corrected?
Yes, with gentle training, nasal breathing often can be reestablished in young children if caught early. Professional help may be needed.
What health issues does mouth breathing cause?
Chronic pediatric mouth breathing can lead to crooked teeth, poor sleep, reduced immunity, facial deformities and more.
Does milk increase mouth breathing?
Dairy is mucus-forming. Reducing milk and cheese can help minimize congestion and encourage nose breathing.
Can surgery help pediatric mouth breathing?
ENTs may recommend adenoid/tonsil removal or procedures to open restricted airways in severe cases.
In summary, babies naturally nose breathe but often switch to mouth breathing as toddlers due to anatomical changes and allergies. This risks health problems. With training and care, nasal breathing can be restored. Establish this beneficial habit early for your child’s best development.