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Learn About Fetal Lung Development And How It Causes Infant Breathing Disorders

What are Infant Breathing Disorders?

Did you know that lungs are one of the last organs to develop in the fetus during pregnancy? There are some vital parts of the lungs that develop only towards the end of pregnancy (1).

A substance known as surfactant helps in decreasing the surface tension in the fetal lungs. This doesn’t develop till the eighth or ninth month of the pregnancy (3). If the baby was born prematurely, then their lungs will not have the time to completely develop and this may lead to different kinds of breathing disorders.

What are the Causes of Infant Breathing Disorders?

The primary cause of breathing disorders associated with lung development is prematurity. If the lungs of the baby are not completely developed at the time of birth then they can cause problems with breathing. Congenital defects which affect airway development or lung development can also cause breathing problems.

What are the symptoms of infant breathing disorders?

The symptoms of breathing disorder in the baby can develop immediately after the birth or a few days later. Some of the symptoms consist of: Not breathing or the absence of breathing; irregular breathing; shallow breathing; grunting; nasal flaring and rapid breathing.

What are the Types of Infant Breathing Disorders?

There are various forms of breathing disorders, which are associated with lung development. These often occur at the time of birth of the baby, before the lungs have had chance to completely develop. Given below are the types of breathing disorders which a newborn baby can suffer from (4):

Pneumonia: The risk of getting pneumonia is very high in case of premature birth and when the baby’s lungs are not completely developed. Premature babies will not have completely developed immune systems and this makes them more susceptible to infections. These babies can also be placed on ventilators and will need to spend time in the NICU and this increases the risk of infection.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome: In case of premature birth of the baby, their ability to make surfactant is not completely developed and this causes collapsing of the small sacs in the lungs causing difficulty in breathing. This condition is known as respiratory distress syndrome and is commonly seen in newborns, more so in those born six weeks prematurely or more.

Meconium Aspiration: Meconium is the first stool that a newborn baby passes and in some cases in the womb. The baby can inhale the meconium immediately after birth and this is known as “aspiration.” This causes infection or inflammation in the lungs. Pneumonia can also develop from meconium aspiration or infection. When compared to premature babies, meconium aspiration can be commonly seen in post-term or full-term babies

Broncho-Pulmonary Dysplasia: Babies who are born more than 10 weeks prematurely are at the most risk for having broncho-pulmonary dysplasia. This is a condition which develops because of any treatment or therapy the baby receives when suffering from premature lung development. In case of premature birth, the baby can also require oxygen and support for breathing in the form of mechanical ventilator, which is lifesaving for a premature baby. However, this treatment can cause scarring in the fragile lungs of a premature baby causing more difficulty in breathing. 

What are the Risk Factors for Infant Breathing Disorders?

There is high risk for breathing disorders for the baby if they are born before the lungs are fully mature. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of having breathing problems.

How are Infant Breathing Disorders Diagnosed?

To diagnose infant breathing disorder in a baby, the doctor will observe the signs and symptoms of the baby. Other than this, there are many diagnostic tests which helps in detecting any breathing disorder in a baby and this consist of:

  • X-ray of the lungs of the baby.
  • Pulse oximetry test for measuring the oxygen levels in the blood of the baby.
  • An arterial blood gas test is done to measure the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the baby’s blood and also the acidity of their blood.

What is the Treatment for Infant Breathing Disorders?

The treatment plan for breathing disorder depends on the specific condition and intensity of the symptoms of the baby. Treatment consists of medications, oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation.

Medications for Treating Infant Breathing Disorders Are:

Respiratory medications like bronchodilators are given to open up the airways in the lungs of the baby, which makes the breathing easier.

Diuretics are given to get rid of the excessive fluid in their lungs.

Artificial surfactant helps in preventing the small air sacs present in the lungs from collapsing.

Caffeine is given in case of recurrent apnea in premature babies.

Oxygen Therapy in Infant Breathing Disorders

If the baby is suffering from breathing problems, then it also causes problems with the baby getting sufficient oxygen into their lungs and can require oxygen therapy.

Mechanical Ventilation as Treatment in Infant Breathing Disorders

If the baby is not able to breathe on its own, then it may need help for breathing in the form of ventilator.

If a congenital defect is causing your breathing problems in the baby, then surgery is needed to correct this problem. The pediatrician can also recommend continued oxygen administration and respiratory therapy at home after the baby gets discharged.

What is the Prognosis for Infants with Breathing Disorders?

The prognosis depends on different factors like:

  • The gestational age.
  • The severity of the symptoms the baby has.
  • The type of breathing disorder the baby has.

How can Breathing Disorders be prevented?

It is not always possible to prevent breathing disorders from developing in the baby. Trying to prevent or avoid a premature birth helps in decreasing the risk of having breathing problems. Following these tips helps in reducing the risk of premature delivery:

  • Always follow proper prenatal checkups.
  • Consume a healthy diet and avoid a diet rich in sugar and fatty foods.
  • Do not use tobacco, alcohol or any recreational drugs.

A healthy pregnancy will prevent premature birth, which in turn prevents any kind of breathing disorders in the baby.


Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 3, 2024

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