Your pulse, or heart rate, is the number of times your heart beats in 60 seconds. The pulse rate is fastest at birth, when the small chambers of the newborn’s heart beat rapidly to supply oxygen to the body organs. As a child gets older, his heart grows larger, and the normal pulse rate will continue to drop until age 18, according to “Essentials of Pediatric Nursing” by Theresa Kyle and Terri Kyle. From age 18 on, your normal pulse rate is more a function of fitness level than of age, according to Topendsports.com.
To measure the pulse rate on an adult, Medline Plus recommends placing two fingers over the radial artery on the inside of either wrist. However, that’s not a good technique for a child younger than 2 because the pressure from your fingers can temporarily block the flow of blood through the artery. The “Essentials of Pediatric Nursing” recommends placing your stethoscope above and to the outside of the baby’s left nipple to listen for the apical pulse, which is the sound the heart makes in the chest.
Calculating the Pulse
According to Medline Plus, you can accurately determine a pulse rate by counting the number of heart beats in 60 seconds, or you can count the beats for 30 seconds and then multiply the result by two.
Premature newborns have a normal pulse rate of 120 to 170 beats per minute, compared with 100 to 150 for other babies between birth and 3 months old, according to eMedicine Net. A normal pulse rate for an infant between 6 and 12 months is 80 to 120 beats per minutes. Normal pulse rates for adults don’t vary a great deal with age, running somewhere between 56 and 85-plus beats per minute, according to Topendsport.com. Adult women typically have faster resting pulse rates than men.
Fitness level significantly affects normal pulse rates in adults. At age 40, for example, a woman in poor physical condition might have a pulse rate of 85 or more beats per minute. Her same-age friend in above average fitness levels will run between 70 and 73 beats a minute, and a well-conditioned 40-year-old female athlete might have a resting heart rate between 54 and 59.
The best time to determine resting pulse rate is first thing in the morning, according to Montana State University. If that’s not practical, measure pulse rate in an adult or infant at least two hours after a meal and four hours after vigorous work or exercise.
About this Author
Sandy Keefe, MSN, RN, has been a freelance writer for five years. Her articles have appeared in numerous health-related magazines, including Advance for Nurses and Advance for Long-Term Care Management. She has written short stories in anthologies such as A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Special Needs.