Periodic breathing is a normal variation of breathing found in premature and full term infants. It occurs when the breath pauses for no more than 10 seconds at a time followed by a series of rapid, shallow breaths. Then the breathing returns to normal. It usually occurs when the infant is sleeping deeply, but may occur with light sleep or even when awake. Periodic breathing does not require any intervention and usually resolves within the first few weeks of life.
This is not the same as apnea, which is a cessation of breathing for greater than 20 seconds associated with limpness and cyanotic color change.