According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 10 percent of the infants born in the United States every year are born before 36 weeks’ gestation and considered premature,  Babies in this category often suffer from any number of health issues due to the fact that they are not fully developed. For this reason, premature babies are continually monitored for adverse conditions. Apnea and bradycardia are two of the possible medical problems the babies endure.

Apnea of Prematurity
Apnea, stopping breathing,  occurs in more than half of the babies born at or before 31 weeks. Premature infants develop apnea secondary to anemia, infections or brain abnormalities. However, the condition most often occurs due to the underdevelopment of the muscular and nervous systems. The muscular system may not have the strength to keep the airway open, which causes an obstruction that interferes with normal breathing. Or, the brain does not transmit the signal to take a breath and the baby stops breathing for longer than 20 seconds.

If the infant does not take a sufficient number of breaths, the blood does not receive enough oxygen. Oxygen saturation may drop below 88 percent. Oxygen levels of premature babies are continually monitored. In most cases, gently tapping the baby’s back triggers the breathing mechanism. If necessary, the infant receives supplemental oxygen or other treatments to maintain the saturation rate of their blood between 88 and 95 percent.

The heart rate of newborns is normally around 120-160 beats per minute. Apnea also leads to a slowing of the heart or bradycardia. The heart rate of larger babies averages 80 beats per minute. If the condition persists, a baby may need caffeine or other medication to normalize the heart rate to ensure adequate blood circulation and oxygen saturation levels.

The majority of babies mature and apneic episodes disappear by the time the little patient is ready to go home. However, some infants have ongoing breathing difficulty, which necessitates the use of an apnea monitor. In this way, the monitor alerts parents when an episode occurs so they are able to take the recommended measures.

Not SIDS Related
Apnea of prematurity and bradycardia are not SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and do not cause the disorder that claims around  3,500 infants a year. However, premature babies are at higher risk of SIDS compared to full-term infants.