If your baby was born prematurely, you are probably concerned about his lungs. A baby’s lungs are not considered to be fully functional until around 35 weeks of pregnancy. If your baby was born before that, it is possible that he may struggle with breathing.
A serious breathing problem called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is the most common illness in the NICU. But, the good news is that due to medical advances, babies with RDS have a 99% survival rate.
Babies with RDS struggle to breathe because their immature lungs do not produce enough surfactant, a protein that keeps small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. March of Dimes grantees helped develop surfactant therapy, which was introduced in 1990. Since then, deaths from RDS have been reduced by half.
Babies with RDS also may receive a treatment called C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The air may be delivered through small tubes in the baby’s nose, or through a tube that has been inserted into his windpipe. As with surfactant treatment, C-PAP helps keep small air sacs from collapsing. C-PAP helps your baby breathe, but does not breathe for him. The sickest babies may temporarily need the help of a mechanical ventilator to breathe for them while their lungs recover. Learn more about the differences between C-PAP and a ventilator, as well as causes, symptoms and treatment of RDS.
BPD (bronchopulmonary dysplasia) is a chronic lung disease common in preemies who have been treated for RDS. These babies may develop fluid in the lungs, scarring and lung damage. Medications can help make breathing easier for them. Usually babies with BPD improve by age 2 but others may develop a chronic lung condition similar to asthma. Learn about asthma, including questions to ask your child’s health care provider and how to help your child understand his breathing problems.
Even though the outlook for babies born prematurely has improved greatly, many babies still face serious complications and lasting disabilities. Many March of Dimes grantees seek new ways to improve the care of these tiny babies, while others strive to prevent premature delivery.
Have questions? Email or text AskUs@marchofdimes.org. We are here to help.