Normal Vital Signs for Children

Normal vital signs

Looking for normal vital signs for children is a routine part of a visit to the pediatrician's office. Many doctors don't share the specific numbers they are looking for, but many parents and caretakers would love to know what these numbers are.

What are Vital Signs?

Vital signs are, as the name indicates, signs of life. A living person breathes, has a heartbeat, pulse and a temperature. While the vitals are fundamentally signs of life, their numbers can indicate medical problems in many cases. A healthcare professional measures the following:

  • Pulse is the heart's beat, sometimes referred to as "heart rate". A medical professional measures how many times the heart beats in 60 seconds, with the following considerations:
    • Speed of the beats
    • Rhythm of the heart beat
    • Strength of the pulse
  • Respiratory rate is basically the number of breaths a person takes in 60 seconds. Professionals look for four conditions:
    • Normal
    • Bradypnea (slow breathing)
    • Tachypnea (accelerated breathing)
    • Apnea (no breathing)
  • Blood pressure is the blood's force against the walls of the arteries.
  • Body temperature is measured to determine if hypothermia or fever are present. Body temperature falls after a person dies or when a person is in shock.

Blood pressure is not always categorized as a vital sign, but parents can expect a blood pressure reading during a doctor's visit. Some do not consider temperature to be a vital, but it is often included in the measurements as well.

Normal Vital Signs for Children: the Facts

It is important to note that normal vital signs for children are different from vital signs for adults and infants. Healthy kids exhibit different numbers for each category as they grow and significant discrepancies can be indicators of certain medical conditions.

Pulse

A medical professional can take a child's pulse a number of ways, but it is most likely taken at the wrist where the radial artery meets the bone. The examiner usually counts the pulse for 15 seconds and multiplies the number of beats by 4 to get the number of beats per minute. The strength of the pulse and the rhythm are measured as well.

Normal Heart Rate in Children
Age Heart Rate
0 to 6 months 100 -180
6 months 120 - 160
2 years 80 - 150
5 years 80 - 110
10 years 70 - 110
Older than 10 50 - 90

Please see Clinical Exam for sleeping heart rates.

Respiration

Breathing is an obvious vital sign measured during regular doctor visits. The examiner follows the same general approach used to measure the pulse, counting the number of breaths for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4 to get the number of breaths per minute. Pediatric Vital Signs from WebMD offers two charts outlining the normal vital signs for babies and children. The following are general numbers for normal breaths per minute in children.

Normal Respiratory Rate
Age Breaths per Minute
0 - 6 months 30 - 60
6 months 25 - 50
2 years 18 - 35
5 years 17 - 27
10 years 15 - 23
Older than 10 55 - 100

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measurements require a sphygmomanometer, a measuring device that uses a cuff that fits around the arm above the elbow. Normal blood pressure readings in children vary according to age, height and weight. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has detailed Blood Pressure Tables for Children and Adolescents.

Body Temperature

A child's temperature may be taken a few different ways:

  • Rectal temperature is the most accurate but it is recommended for infants.
  • Oral temperature is typically taken with an electronic thermometer, but some may use a glass thermometer.
  • Auxiliary measurements are taken in the armpit. This approach is appealing, but it is the least reliable.
  • An electronic thermometer may be used to take a child's temperature in the ear.
  • A forehead thermometer can be placed on the forehead to measure the temperature of the skin.
  • A pacifier thermometer may be used for babies.
Normal Temperature Readings
Approach Temperature
Rectal 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Oral 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Auxiliary 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Ear 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit

Considerations

The numbers presented here are general guidelines, and it is necessary to discuss normal ranges for your child with his or her pediatrician.

Vital signs in children and adults can change in certain conditions. For example, a person may exhibit accelerated pulse and respiration after engaging in physical activity. The normal readings are associated with average rates while resting, but not sleeping.

Children's health is an important issue and knowing the normal vital signs for children can help in some cases. However, it is critical to have a professional in the medical field take the readings to ensure that they are taken and interpreted properly.

Normal Vital Signs for Children