Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.
What is infant apnea?
Infant apnea is an episode when your baby stops breathing for more than 20 seconds for no obvious reason. Your baby may begin breathing again with certain measures or on his or her own. Infant apnea is also called a brief resolved unexplained event (BRUE). A BRUE is an episode that frightens the person who sees it.
What increases my infant's risk for apnea?
- Seizures, a severe infection, or a heart condition
- Difficulty breathing while sleeping or feeding
- Conditions such as gastric reflux, low blood sugar, or a head injury
- An upper airway problem, or some genetic conditions
What are the signs of infant apnea?
Most periods of apnea happen while your baby is sleeping but can also happen while he or she is awake. You might notice any of the following:
- No breathing, or chest movement without any sign of air or breath coming out
- Cool skin that looks pale and blue
- Red skin and choking, gagging, or gasping
- Limp muscles
How is infant apnea diagnosed?
Your baby's healthcare provider will ask questions about the episodes. Your baby may need blood and urine tests, sleep studies, or EKGs. He or she may also need a lumbar puncture, chest x-ray, or head scans. A barium swallow may be used to check for gastric reflux.
How is infant apnea treated?
Treatment depends on the cause of your baby's apnea. Apnea may stop as he or she gets older.
What should I do if my baby has an episode of apnea?
Do not shake your baby to make him or her breathe.
- Gently tap the sole of your baby's foot.
- Rub his or her back.
- Change the position of his or her head and neck.
- Start CPR, if necessary. Then call your local emergency number. Keep emergency numbers near the phone.
What can I do to manage apnea episodes?
- Write down what was happening before, during, and after an episode. Write down how long each episode lasts. Take the information to your baby's visits with his or her healthcare provider.
- Use an apnea monitor if directed. This device monitors how well your baby is breathing. The monitor alarm will sound if your baby stops breathing or takes shallow breaths. It will sound if your baby's heart rate is lower or higher than it should be. Your baby's healthcare providers will teach you and other members of your household how to use it. Make sure someone is always available to respond to the apnea monitor's alarms.
- Keep emergency numbers near the phone.
How do I put my baby down to sleep safely?
Tell grandparents, babysitters, and anyone else who cares for your baby the following rules:
- Always put your baby on his or her back to sleep. Do this every time your baby sleeps (naps and at night). Do this even if he or she sleeps more soundly on his or her stomach or side.
- Put your baby on a firm, flat surface to sleep. Your baby should sleep in a crib, bassinet, or cradle that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Do not let him or her sleep on pillows, waterbeds, soft mattresses, quilts, beanbags, or other soft surfaces. Move your baby to his or her bed if he or she falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, or swing. He or she may change positions in a sitting device and not be able to breathe well.
- Put your baby in his or her own bed. A crib or bassinet in your room, near your bed, is the safest place for your baby to sleep. Do not let him or her sleep in bed or on a couch with you.
- Do not leave soft objects or loose bedding in your baby's crib. The crib should contain only a mattress covered with a fitted bottom sheet. Use a sheet that is made for the mattress. Do not put pillows, bumpers, comforters, or stuffed animals in his or her bed. Do not use loose blankets. If you must use a blanket, tuck it around the mattress.
- Do not let your baby get too hot. Keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult. Never dress your baby in more than 1 layer more than you would wear. Use a sleep sack or other sleep clothing. Do not cover your baby's face or head while he or she sleeps. Your baby is too hot if he or she is sweating or his or her chest feels hot. If you swaddle your baby, do not place the swaddle blanket above the level of his or her armpits.
- Do not raise the head of your baby's bed. Your baby could slide or roll into a position that makes it hard for him or her to breathe.
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your baby. Do not let anyone smoke in your home or car. The smoke gets into your furniture and clothing. This means your baby is breathing harmful chemicals that increase the risk for SIDS.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You have to perform CPR on your baby.
- Your baby is not breathing or is gasping for breath.
- Your baby will not wake up.
- Your baby has a seizure.
When should I call my baby's pediatrician?
- Your baby's skin, lips, or fingernails are pale or blue.
- You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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