Your child's heart rate (also called pulse) can vary wildly throughout the day. Heart rate is the number of times the heart beats each minute. Daily activities can change how fast or slow the rate fluctuates – 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 make-up of that individual child," says Colin Kane, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health℠ and Director of the Cardiology Outreach Program. "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 and on average ranges from:
- Newborns 0 to 1 month old: 70 to 190 beats per minute
- Infants 1 to 11 months old: 80 to 160 beats per minute
- Children 1 to 2 years old: 80 to 130 beats per minute
- Children 3 to 4 years old: 80 to 120 beats per minute
- Children 5 to 6 years old: 75 to 115 beats per minute
- Children 7 to 9 years old: 70 to 110 beats per minute
- Children 10 years and older: 60 to 100 beats per minute
It's likely that your child's pulse 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.
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
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.
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.
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 show symptoms of lethargy or experience fainting, they may need medical help.
How can I check my child's heart rate?
Measuring your child's pulse is easy. There are several places on the body where you can check the pulse including the wrist, inside the elbow or the side of the neck. For most parents, the wrist is the easiest, most accessible 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.
However, 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."
If your child has a heart condition requiring heart rate monitoring, your doctor can teach you how to find their pulse and take their heart rate. Some wearable devices and smartphones can also read the heart rate with good accuracy.
If you are worried about your child's heart rate, Dr. Kane recommends you call your pediatrician. "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."
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