Apnea is a term that means breathing has stopped for more than 20 seconds. It can happen in full-term babies, but it is more common in premature babies. The more premature the baby, the greater the chances that apnea will occur.
In premature babies, the part of the brain and spinal cord that controls breathing is not yet mature enough to allow nonstop breathing. Apnea of prematurity can cause babies to have large bursts of breath followed by periods of shallow breathing or stopped breathing. The condition may have other causes. Some of these include:
Apnea of prematurity is when a baby’s breathing has stopped for 20 seconds or more. Other signs and symptoms that may happen with apnea include:
The symptoms of apnea of prematurity may look like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
It is important to find out if the apnea is caused by prematurity or if it is caused by another problem. Your baby’s healthcare provider will examine your baby. He or she will check many of your baby's body systems to find out what might be causing the apnea. Your baby’s breathing rate, heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure will be continuously checked. Tests used to diagnose the problem may include:
Many premature babies will “outgrow” the condition by the time they reach the date that would have been the 36th week of pregnancy. If treatment is needed, it may include:
Your baby may also need blood transfusions, depending on the cause of apnea.
Premature babies may have many problems. They often have to stay in the hospital for long periods of time. Apnea of prematurity is one of the problems of babies born too early. A slow heart rate and decreased oxygen levels in the blood may happen with apnea of prematurity. These babies are at risk for respiratory failure and death. They may also have long-term lung problems.
Most premature babies outgrow apnea as they mature. But sometimes your baby may be sent home with an apnea monitor. It should be used whenever you or your infant is sleeping and when you are busy. The apnea monitor alarms are very loud so do not place the monitor next to your baby’s head. Check every alarm signal, even if you think it is a false alarm.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider: