If your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), it can be nerve wracking to see him hooked up to machines, especially if he is having difficulty breathing. This is when a respiratory therapist (RT) can help.
“If a baby needs respiratory support, parents should not be afraid. We give them only what they need” says Ana Anthony, a respiratory therapist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., one of the finest children’s hospitals in the nation. Ana notes that “Every day may be a different challenge. The babies will go through ups and downs – the body is very complex. Our goal is to have the baby breathe on his own.”
It’s Respiratory Care Week, a time to recognize the respiratory care profession and to raise awareness for improving lung health. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, “Respiratory therapists provide the hands-on care that helps people recover from a wide range of medical conditions.”
Respiratory therapists work in a variety of settings including a hospital NICU. Babies born too early run the risk of having breathing problems because their lungs may not be fully developed. Other babies might have breathing issues because of an infection or birth defect.
Due to numerous medical breakthroughs, more and more babies who need treatment for breathing problems or disorders benefit from respiratory therapy. In fact, neonatal respiratory therapy has become its own medical sub-specialty. A neonatal-pediatric RT is trained to use complex medical equipment to care for the smallest babies with mild to severe breathing challenges. They visit their patients daily, as often as needed.
You may have been introduced to your baby’s respiratory therapist if you have a baby in the NICU. A respiratory therapist would have evaluated your baby’s breathing soon after your baby arrived. The RT looks to see if your baby is breathing too fast, if the breaths are shallow, or if your baby is struggling to breathe. Then, together with the NICU healthcare team of doctors, nurses and other specialists, the RT develops a care plan to help your baby.
Respiratory therapists are rigorously trained, first earning a college degree and then specific certifications. For example, Ana holds several credentials: a BSRC (bachelor’s degree in respiratory care), RRT-NPS, (registered respiratory therapist with a neonatal pediatrics specialty), AEC (asthma education certification) and ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation). If these titles sound impressive, it’s because they are! RTs are put through intense education and hands-on training and stay current with breakthroughs or changes in the field by obtaining different certifications.
Ana Anthony speaks for all RTs when she says “We love what we do and strive to have the best outcome possible for all our patients.”
You can learn more about respiratory issues that preemies may face, in our article. Did your baby receive care from a respiratory therapist? Tell us about your experience.
Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.
Note: This post is part of the series “Delays and Disabilities: How to get help for your child.“