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Infant Apnea


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 own. Infant apnea is also called an apparent life-threatening event (ALTE). An ALTE is an episode that frightens the person who sees it.

What increases my baby's risk for infant apnea?

The cause of infant apnea may not be known. Any of the following may increase your baby's risk:

  • 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
  • Prematurity, upper airway deformity, 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 is awake. You might notice any of the following in your baby:

  • Cool skin that looks pale and blue
  • Red skin and choking, gagging, or gasping
  • No chest movement and limp muscles
  • Chest movement without any sign of air or breath coming out

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 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. He may stop having periods of apnea as he gets older.

What should I do if my baby has an episode of apnea?

Do not shake your baby to make him breathe.

  • Gently tap the sole of your baby's foot.
  • Rub his back.
  • Change the position of his head and neck.
  • Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if necessary.

What can I do to manage apnea episodes?

Keep your baby safe at home by doing the following:

  • 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 healthcare provider.
  • Use the apnea monitor if directed. Your healthcare providers will teach you and other members of your household how to use an apnea monitor. 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:

  • Put your baby on his back to sleep. Do this every time he sleeps (naps and at night). Do this even if he sleeps more soundly on his stomach or his 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 sleep on pillows, waterbeds, soft mattresses, quilts, beanbags, or other soft surfaces. Move him to his bed if he falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, or swing. He may change positions in a sitting device and not be able to breathe well.
  • Put your baby in his 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 sleep in bed or on a couch with you. Do not let him sleep on a pillow, couch, or recliner.
  • Do not leave soft objects or loose bedding in his crib. His bed 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 bed. Dress your baby in a sleep sack or other sleep clothing before you put him down to sleep. 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 him in more than 1 layer more than you would wear. Do not cover his face or head while he sleeps. Your baby is too hot if he is sweating or his chest feels hot. If you swaddle your baby, do not place the swaddle blanket above the level of his armpits.
  • Do not raise the head of his bed. Your baby could slide or roll into a position that makes it hard for him 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, and this means your baby is breathing harmful chemicals. This increases his risk for SIDS.

Call 911 if:

  • You have to perform CPR on your baby.
  • Your baby will not wake up.
  • Your baby has a seizure.

When should I contact my baby's healthcare provider?

  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You 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 caregivers 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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Infant Apnea

Micromedex® Care Notes