Normal Vital Signs for Children

Julie Kirk
Contributor: Ella Rain
nurse checking a child's vital signs

Recording your child's vital signs are a routine part of a visit to the pediatrician's office. Doctors are looking for specific numbers when taking vital signs which is used to evaluate your child's overall health. As a parent or caretaker, it's beneficial that you learn what these numbers are and what they could mean regarding your child's health.

What Are Vital Signs for Children?

Vital signs are clinical measurements that show how well your child's body is functioning. These measurements include heart rate (pulse), respiratory rate, blood pressure and body temperature. If these numbers are abnormal, it can indicate possible medical problems. A healthcare professional measures the following:

Pulse or Heart Rate

The heart rate or pulse is measured by a medical professional when he or she typically places two fingers on the child's wrist below the thumb and counts the beats for 15 seconds. The number of beats is then multiplied by four to determine your child's heart rate in beats per minute. The following is also considered when taking the heart rate:

  • Speed of the heart rate.
  • Rhythm of the heartbeat.
  • Strength of the pulse.

Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate is the number of breaths a child takes in 60 seconds. Just as with the heart rate, the number of breaths will be counted for 15 seconds and multiplied by four to get the number of breaths per minute. The child's respiratory rhythm and depth are also assessed. Medical professionals can determine the following:

  • Normal respirations.
  • Bradypnea which is breathing that is abnormally slow.
  • Tachypnea which is described as a shallow, elevated respiratory rate.

Blood Pressure Measurement

Your child will have their blood pressure taken during their exam:

  • Blood pressure is the pressure of the circulating blood against the walls of the arteries.
  • Your child will wear a cuff specific for their size to help with the accuracy of the reading.
  • The doctor will take your child's blood pressure two or three times which will help with accuracy as well.

Body Temperature

Your child will have their temperature taken. This will determine:

  • If the body temperature is normal.
  • If the body temperature is high, your child has a fever and is most likely trying to fight off an infection.
  • Low body temperature can also indicate medical issues.

Normal Vital Sign 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 will most likely be taken at the wrist.

Normal Heart Rate in Children
Age Heart Rate
Newborn 100 -205
1 month - 1 year 100 - 190
1 - 2 years 98 - 140
3 - 5 years 80 - 120
6 - 11 years 75 - 118
12 - 15 years 60 - 100

According to Health.NY.gov, children's sleeping heart rates may be 10 percent lower.

Respiration

Breathing is an obvious vital sign measured during regular doctor visits. The following are general numbers for normal breaths per minute in children.

Normal Respiratory Rate
Age Breaths per Minute
Less than 1 year 30 - 53
1 - 2 years 22 - 37
3 - 5 years 20 - 28
6 - 11 years 18 - 25
12 - 15 years 12 - 20

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measurements require a sphygmomanometer which is a measuring device that uses a cuff that fits around the upper arm just above the elbow. Normal blood pressure readings in children vary according to age, height and weight. Blood pressure information and numbers can be found at the Pediatric Vital Signs Reference Chart.

Body Temperature

nurse taking boy's 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.
  • Axillary measurements are taken in the armpit. While this approach is appealing, 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.
  • Temporal artery thermometers that measure heat waves on side of the child's forehead.
Normal Temperature Readings
Approach Temperature
Rectal 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Oral 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Axillary 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Ear 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit

A Few Things to Consider

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 while sleeping.

What Could Abnormal Vital Signs Mean?

If your child's vital signs are abnormal, the doctor may want to do some further testing. A few examples of what these abnormal readings may indicate include:

  • If a child's heart rate is low, races or skips this could be due to the child having trouble breathing (lack of oxygen), medication effects or a congenital heart problem.
  • If a young child's blood pressure is high or low, it can indicate a heart or lung problem. Hypertension in a child can also be due to obesity and hypotension can occur due to a severe allergic reaction.
  • If a child's temperature is high, there is a fever which indicates there is an infection somewhere in the body.

What Should You Do if Your Child's Vital Signs Are Abnormal?

If your child's vital signs aren't in the typical range, it is best to recheck especially if the child was anxious or upset during your assessment. Wait until the child calms down, check for any other signs of illness, then recheck their vital signs. If they are still abnormal, it is always best to call the doctor.

Knowing Your Child's Vital Signs

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.

Was this page useful?
Normal Vital Signs for Children