What is apnea of prematurity?
With apnea [ap-knee-uh], breathing stops temporarily
and then returns to normal. Apnea of prematurity
refers to short periods of time when a premature
baby stops breathing.
Other problems can contribute to
apnea, including:
• Low red blood cell count (anemia)
• Lack of coordination (baby has trouble
breathing while eating)
• Heart or lung problems
• Infection
• Baby is not getting enough oxygen while breathing
• Overstimulation
• Problems keeping body temperature constant
How will I know if my baby has apnea of prematurity?
Most premature babies have apnea. While in the NICU, the baby is hooked up to monitors
that measure breathing and heart rate. The health care team will tell you if your baby has
periods of apnea.
It is important to manage apnea while it is happening. Otherwise, the baby may not get enough
oxygen. The baby’s heart rate also may slow down (bradycardia) during apnea.
A UNDERSTANDING
Apnea of Prematurity
Trachea
Lung Alveoli (air sac)
Inhaled air
What causes apnea of prematurity?
There are two main causes of apnea
of prematurity:
• Brain development may not be complete
• The muscles needed for breathing
may be weak
Brain
With apnea, breathing stops for
a short period of time.
What treatment will my baby receive?
Treatment depends on how often the baby stops breathing
and for how long.
• In general, healthy babies with a few periods of apnea
per day often do not need treatment.
– Gently touching the baby during periods of apnea can
help get breathing back to normal.
– Changing the baby’s position or feeding the baby more
slowly also may help.
• Babies who have more frequent apnea may need
treatment to help them breathe.
– Medicines like caffeine may be used.
– Extra oxygen or air may be delivered using a small
tube in the nose.
– In a few cases, the health care team may help the
baby’s breathing by using a mask and a bag or a
breathing machine. This machine might be a CPAP
or a ventilator.
Treating Apnea of Prematurity
What will happen next?
Apnea of prematurity usually goes away on its own as the
baby grows. The timing will vary, because each baby is
different. Talk to your baby’s health care team. They

Glossary
Alveoli – tiny sacs in the lungs
that move oxygen from the air
into the blood
Anemia – low red blood cell count
Apnea – breathing stops for a
short period of time
Bradycardia – decreased
heart rate
CPAP (continuous positive
airway pressure) – a treatment
that uses mild pressurized air
to keep the lungs open
Saturation – the amount of
oxygen in the blood. This is
expressed as a percentage of
the total amount of oxygen that
the blood can hold.
Trachea – windpipe
Ventilator – a machine that helps
the baby breathe by moving air in
and out of the lungs

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