Irregular Breathing and Sleep Apnea in Babies

When a baby is born and during the first months of life, it is normal for moms to wake up at night to see if the baby is breathing. Knowing these breathing patterns we can solve our doubts.

Newborns, especially premature babies, breathe irregularly . In fact, they can combine fast and deep breaths with slower and shallower ones, they can even sigh from time to time. This is what is called periodic breathing and it is due to the immaturity of the respiratory system , so the rhythm of your breaths will be regulated as your respiratory system matures. Although this type of breathing is normal in newborns, you have to be attentive to pauses or sleep apneas .

Periodic breathing

The periodic or cyclical breathing of the newborn appears normally during sleep and consists of episodes in which the breathing is irregular , pauses and does not follow the usual inspiration-expiration rhythm. This occurs because, during sleep, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing slow down. However, it is a normal respiratory pattern in newborns, especially premature infants, without cardiocirculatory repercussions and with spontaneous recovery.
It is very important to know that it is a normal characteristic of the newborn’s breathing, that it is not important, it does not put his health at risk and that it will disappear with time. The baby has a good appearance, good color and the episode normalizes without performing any special maneuver.

Apnea and other abnormal breaths

During periodic breathing, the baby makes small pauses in breathing called apneas. They are of short duration, no more than 15 seconds , followed by a series of breaths very closely and at a very rapid pace for another 10 to 15 seconds. In principle, they are normal, but you have to be attentive to their duration. A pause in his breathing of more than 20 seconds is pathological and you must react quickly , moving him to stimulate the respiratory center or, if he does not respond, initiate resuscitation maneuvers and call 112.
Other warning signs that should concern you and will justify going to the emergency room are detecting cyanosis in the baby, this occurs when the lips, skin and tongue turn bluish in color. The same happens if you detect that he has difficulty breathing, for example, if you hear panting, abnormal wheezing or detect that he has difficulty taking air, the latter is called nasal fin or rib retraction. Finally, if you discover that you breathe at more than 60 breaths per minute, you should see a doctor in case you could suffer from tachypnea.

4 Curiosities of baby’s breath

Babies breathe faster

The respiratory rate of a baby is about 40-60 breaths per minute in basal conditions, so if he cries or is irritable they can increase. But this rapid respiration will decrease over the years , dropping to 20-40 breaths per minute between 12 months and 3 years to reach the 20 breaths per minute that an adult produces.

Babies breathe only through your nose

Up to 6 months, babies breathe only through their noses . The cause is anatomical, since the soft palate is very close to the epiglottis, limiting the entry of air through the mouth. It is normal breathing that is difficult when the baby has nasal obstruction due to upper respiratory infections. But, in turn, it is very beneficial because the nose regulates the humidity and temperature of the inspired air and filters it or cleans it of suspended particles . Around 6 months the oral cavity grows along with the face and tongue, causing the epiglottis to descend, separating from the soft palate and giving way to the possibility of mouth breathing.

Babies can snore

Snoring is closely related to mucus in the upper airways, another very common aspect in babies. The best ally to alleviate them are nasal washes with physiological saline or sea water. But if snoring is not accompanied by a cold, 20% of children who present it may suffer from sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome , where snoring is accompanied by other symptoms such as stopping breathing for 20 seconds or more, restlessness during sleep and irritability during the day due to poor quality of sleep.

Frequent sneezing

They are common in newborns and work as a mechanism to clear the airways.
What you should know…

  • The baby performs apneas of short duration (no more than 15 seconds) followed by very continuous breaths at a very fast pace for another 10 to 15 seconds.
  • A pause in breathing of more than 20 seconds is pathological and you must react quickly.

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