Aug 24, 2018, 9:37:04 AM CDT Mar 18, 2024, 9:52:08 AM CDT

Is your child's heart rate healthy?

How to check and understand your child's pulse

Doctor checking little boys pulse using his wrist Doctor checking little boys pulse using his wrist

Your child's heart rate (also called pulse) can vary throughout the day. Heart rate is the number of times the heart beats each minute. Daily activities can change how fast or slow the heart beats – from a slow, steady beat while resting or sleeping to a higher rate during exercise.

"There's a wide variation in what a normal heart rate can be depending on the age of the child as well as the biological makeup of that individual child," says Colin Kane, M.D., Pediatric Cardiologist and Cardiology Service Line Director at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. "Even kids who are the same age can have different resting heart rates."

What is a healthy heart rate for a child?

When your child is sitting quietly, their heart rate is considered a resting heart rate. A healthy resting heart rate can vary by age, with normal rates for babies being as high as 190 beats per minute and 10-year-olds' as low as 60 beats per minute. The chart below highlights normal heart rates by age:

Resting Heart Rate (beats/minute)
0 to 1-month-old (Newborns)
70-190 BPM
1 to 11 months old (Infants)
80-160 BPM
1 to 2 years old
80-130 BPM
3 to 4 years old
80-120 BPM
5 to 6 years old
75-115 BPM
7 to 9 years old
70-110 BPM
10 and older
60-100 BPM

It's likely that your child's heart rate stays within these healthy ranges, even if the pulse feels very fast. Understanding the variations in heart rates and how to properly check your child's rate can help keep track and prevent unnecessary concern.

Resting heart rates vs. target heart rates in children

Resting heart rate and target heart rates describe a child's heart rate when they are resting versus when they are exercising.

  • Resting heart rate: This is the number of times the heart beats per minute when a person is resting. This means when your child is sitting or lying down and generally relaxed.
  • Target heart rate: This is a metric that many athletes and coaches use to measure how hard the heart is working during exercise. They may monitor their heart rate during a workout and try to exercise with their heart rate in a certain range to help train for an event or improve their overall health.

What can change a child's heart rate?

Just as in adults, a child's heart rate will vary depending on the activity level, whether asleep or awake, and whether your child is healthy or ill, calm or stressed.

"Your child's heart rate is typically not linked to an intrinsic heart problem," says Dr. Kane. "Their heart rate can go up with anything that makes them excited or uncomfortable. When this happens, it's just a natural response to stress."

A child might have a fast heart rate if they are:

  • Playing or exercising vigorously
  • Experiencing pain
  • Feeling anxious or stressed
  • Experiencing a fever or illness
  • Drinking a lot of caffeine or energy drinks
  • Dehydrated

If your child is experiencing any of the above, a fast heart rate is typically not a cause for concern, though drinking a lot of caffeine can cause problems in some children. Also, remember that your child's heart naturally beats faster than an adult heart and can get much faster during exercise than an adult heart rate.

A child typically experiences a slower heart rate when sleeping. However, if their heart rate is slow in the middle of the day and they seem extremely tired or faint, they may need medical help.

How can I check my child's heart rate?

Checking your child's pulse is easy. There are several places on the body where you can perform a pulse check on children, including the wrist, inside the elbow or the side of the neck. The wrist is often the easiest place. To check your child's heart rate, place two fingers on their wrist, below their thumb. Apply gentle pressure until you can feel a slight beat against your fingertips. Count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds. Then multiply that number by 4 to determine your child's heart rate, which is measured in beats per minute.

For instance, if you feel 20 beats in 15 seconds, your child's heart rate is 80 beats per minute, a normal rate.

If your child has a heart condition requiring heart rate monitoring, your doctor can teach you how to find their pulse and their heart rate. Some wearable devices and smartphones can also accurately measure a child's heart rate.

How can I check the heart rate of newborns and infants?

While the process is the same, you may not be able to easily find a pulse in infants or younger children who have smaller blood vessels. A medical professional with experience in caring for children will likely need to take their pulse.

"If you're not familiar with taking a pulse, it may take a few tries until you become more comfortable and confident," says Dr. Kane. "The best thing to do if you are concerned is to have a person with medical training check it for you."

What do I do if my child has an abnormal heartbeat?

Abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) happen when the heart rate is not within the normal range. A child's heartbeat may be lower than the healthy range for their age (bradycardia), or higher than the healthy range for their age (tachycardia).

Depending on the situation, a rapid heartbeat is typically not a cause for concern. However, if your child is experiencing symptoms such as chest pain or trouble breathing along with a fast heart rate, they may need medical attention. Dr. Kane says a good rule of thumb is if your child's heart is beating too fast for you to count the beats, then medical help may be needed.

"There are very normal and benign conditions that can give your child an irregular heartbeat," he says. "That's why it's best to be evaluated by a medical professional."

If you are concerned that your child's heartbeat is too fast, call your pediatrician. If you are able to, take your child's pulse beforehand and tell the doctor's office what it was. They will let you know the best next steps.

Similarly, if your child has a resting heart rate below the normal range, consider contacting your pediatrician.

If your child's heart is beating too fast for you to count the beats, that could be cause for concern. Learn how to check pulse and what a healthy heart rate is via @Childrens.

Learn more

The experts at the Heart Center at Children's Health care for all children's heart conditions, from congenital heart defects to heart disease. Find out how they can help keep your child's heart healthy.

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