The hallmark of the dynamic regulation of the transitions between inspiration and expiration is the timing of the inspiratory off-switch (IOS) mechanisms. IOS is mediated by pulmonary vagal afferent feedback (Breuer–Hering reflex) and by central interactions involving the Kölliker–Fuse nuclei (KFn). We hypothesized that the balance between these two mechanisms controlling IOS may change during postnatal development. We tested this hypothesis by comparing neural responses to repetitive rhythmic vagal stimulation, at a stimulation frequency that paces baseline breathing, using in situ perfused brainstem preparations of rats at different postnatal ages. At ages < P15 (P, postnatal days), phrenic nerve activity (PNA) was immediately paced and entrained to the afferent input and this pattern remained unchanged by repetitive stimulations, indicating that vagal input stereotypically dominated the control of IOS. In contrast, PNA entrainment at > P15 was initially insignificant, but increased after repetitive vagal stimulation or lung inflation. This progressive adaption of PNA to the pattern of the sensory input was accompanied by the emergence of anticipatory centrally mediated IOS preceding the stimulus trains. The anticipatory IOS was blocked by bilateral microinjections of NMDA receptor antagonists into the KFn and PNA was immediately paced and entrained, as it was seen at ages < P15. We conclude that as postnatal maturation advances, synaptic mechanisms involving NMDA receptors in the KFn can override the vagally evoked IOS after ‘training’ using repetitive stimulation trials. The anticipatory IOS may imply a hitherto undescribed form of pattern learning and recall in convergent sensory and central synaptic pathways that mediate IOS.