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.
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.
"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
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.