Developmental changes in the respiratory activity and its modulation by substance P (SP) were studied in the neonatal rat brainstem–spinal cord preparation from the day of birth to day 3 (P0–P3). The respiratory network activity in the ventrolateral medulla was represented by two types of bursts: basic regular bursts with typical decrementing shape and biphasic bursts appearing after augmented biphasic discharges in inspiratory neurons. With advancing postnatal age the respiratory output was considerably modified; the basic rhythm became faster by 20%, whereas the biphasic burst rate, which was originally 15 times slower, declined further by 180% and the C4 burst duration significantly decreased by 20% due to reduced decay time without preceding changes in the central inspiratory drive. SP had an age-dependent excitatory effect on respiratory activity. In the basic rhythm, SP could induce transient rhythm cessations on P0–P2 but not on P3. For the biphasic burst frequency, the sensitivity to SP significantly decreased from P0 to P3, whereas the range of SP-induced changes increased. In both types of bursts, SP prolonged C4 burst duration due to increasing decay time. This effect was three times greater on P3 and did not depend on the central inspiratory drive. Our results suggest that the potency of SP to regulate the respiratory activity elevates during the early postnatal period. The developmental changes in the respiratory activity appear to represent the transient stage in the maturation of rhythm and pattern generation mechanisms facilitating adaptive behavior of a quickly growing organism.