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breathing issues in premature babies

breathing issues in premature babies

breathing issues in premature babies and what are the causes?. Premature infants are born before the completion of their gestation period and often have several breathing complications. The lungs of premature babies do not function properly as they are not fully developed. Their lungs don’t have enough quantity of surfactants therefore their lungs keep flatten. Here in the following section, we look in detail at some of the breathing problems that are associated with premature babies.

Newborn Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Newborn Respiratory Distress Syndrome (NRDS) is one of the most common breathing issues faced by premature babies. It is also known as Hyaline Membrane disease or sometimes Surfactant deficiency lung disease due to the non-availability of surfactants in the lungs. Usually, a healthy baby starts to produce surfactant within 24-28 weeks of the gestation period and produces enough till 34 weeks. Surfactant keeps the lung's alveoli open so that baby can breathe easily after birth. In premature babies, the alveoli collapse, and damaged walls initiate inflammatory reactions which worsen the situation by producing thick mucus.

The most common symptoms of NRDS which usually observed in premature babies are:

  • Poor breathing rate at the time of birth

  • Symptoms of Apnea (Rapid but shallow breathing)

  • Bluish colour of the skin due to insufficient Oxygen (Cyanosis)

  • Flaring nostrils while breathing

  • Grunting sound produce while breathing

Healthcare professionals used blood tests or chest X-rays for the diagnosis of NRDS in babies. Oximeters are attached to the baby’s finger to measure the O2 saturation in the baby’s blood. Mostly, the doctor injects steroids into the baby’s body to strengthen the baby’s lungs. Sometimes, artificial surfactants are also provided by nasal tube if a baby is underweight. Most babies suffering from NRDS are kept on ventilators in the earlier days of their lives.


Pneumonia is the infection of premature babies’ lungs usually caused by S. pneumoniae bacteria or some viruses. The doctor on suspicion can order blood tests and chest X-rays for confirmation of pneumonia. A complete therapeutic course of antibiotics is required for the treatment of pneumonia in babies. During the treatment, a healthcare professional can put you an extra supply of oxygen to keep the baby’s body oxygenated.


Apnea in preterm babies characterized as an irregular breathing pattern that is accompanied by 15 seconds pause. The preterm babies born before 28 weeks of gestation period usually have this breathing order. The nervous system of these babies is under development and the lungs are non-functional. Therefore, the nervous system of these babies can’t able to control breathing pattern and often forget to breathe.

Intensive care is required for such babies and bio-sensors are implant on the chest of these babies to monitor breathing patterns. During any irregularity or unusual pause, healthcare professionals pat on the chest of babies to assist them in breathing. In the case of apnea due to an underdeveloped nervous system, aminophylline is used in such babies to control breathing patterns. 24 hours ventilator support is ordered for such babies by health professionals.

Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

It is a chronic ailment of the lungs caused by injury of lung tissues and babies with NRDS usually face this ailment. Babies born before 28 weeks of gestation period often fall prey to BPD. 24 hours ventilator support is required for such babies in the early days. Doctors usually give steroidal injections to these babies as steroids boost up the healing of injured lung tissues. But prolong treatment with steroids can lead to cerebral palsy, a condition associated with later developmental growth.


Pneumothorax is also called air leakage through the lungs of premature babies. Sometimes, alveolar rupture occurs which leads to the creation of a small pore in the baby’s lungs. The air starts to leak from this hole and starts to accumulate in the pleural cavity. If air accumulates in greater amounts, it starts to put external pressure on the lungs and the baby feels difficulty in breathing. A tube attached to a suction device is put in the baby’s chest for continuous removal of air until the hole heals.



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