In the NICU – How does C-PAP differ from a ventilator?

help-breathing2Some premature babies are put on C-PAP to help them breathe. Others are on a ventilator.  What’s the difference?

In C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure), air is delivered to a baby’s lungs either through small tubes in the baby’s nose or through a tube that has been inserted into her windpipe. The tubes are attached to a machine, which helps the baby breathe but does not breathe for her.  With C-PAP, the baby breathes on her own, but the steady flow of air coming in through the tubes keeps enough pressure in her lungs to prevent the air sacs from collapsing after each breath.  It’s a little extra support to help the lungs do their job.

A mechanical ventilator is a breathing machine that delivers warmed and humidified air to a baby’s lungs. The sickest babies receive mechanical ventilation, meaning that the mechanical ventilator temporarily breathes for them while their lungs recover. The air is delivered to the baby’s lungs through an endotracheal tube (a small plastic tube that is inserted through a baby’s nose or mouth down into the windpipe). The amount of oxygen, air pressure and number of breaths per minute can be regulated to meet each baby’s needs.

For those of you who had a premature baby, was she on C-PAP or a ventilator?  How did you feel when you saw the equipment?


Updated October 2015.

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57 Responses to “In the NICU – How does C-PAP differ from a ventilator?”

  1. Kira Says:

    Our son (third child) was born November 1 at 27 weeks, and was 12 days on the ventilator. They intubated/extubated him three times before he was able to breathe only with the CPAP. Unfortunately, so much time using mechanical ventilation caused severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia (aka chronic lung disease). They gave him corticosteroids (dexamethasone and hydrocortisone) but he is still very fragile and desaturates frequently. We still don’t know what’s ahead and if he will have serious handicaps in the future. Hopefully his lungs will eventually heal. Right now, it’s a stressful roller-coaster ride, with two young children at home and spending several hours a day in the NICU with a very sick baby…

  2. Heaven Says:

    Kira my baby was born 29 weeks early ,I have three other babies. I know how you feel. please take it one day one step at a time. Continue to pray daily.God will see you thru it all.

  3. Laura Says:

    Dear Kira,
    We have twin boys who were born at 27 weeks (2 lbs each). Same thing; they were on the ventilator for around 10-12 days and then cpap after that. They both had to be re-intubated at different times during there 3 1/2 month stay in the NICU (two infections, anemia). One had a brain bleed and the other had to have the PDA ligation. The one with the brain bleed also had poor muscle tone and the doctors were concerned about cerebral palsy. I am writing this to encourage you. Our twin boys just turned 12 years old. We went through a lot early on, but they are totally healthy today. The one with the brain bleed and poor muscle tone is now my “super athlete”. He can play any sport well and is a black belt in tar kwon do.
    I pray the same for your little guy; that he will grow into a perfectly healthy boy. I pray that God gives you the strength and faith to persevere through these difficult times in the knowledge that better days are ahead.

  4. Yogesh dutta Says:

    Hi all,
    My baby is born in 39th week but his respiration rate is high around 80, baby is on cpap for last 3 days.please suggest is this normal?

  5. Shaquita Says:

    Hi, my twins were born at 24 wks and 5 days. My daughter is doing great! However im concerned about my son. They keep having to reintubate him and he is suffering from immature GI as well. He stats goes low sometimes but for the most part he okay. Whoever is on this roller coaster too you are not alone. One day at a time and continue to pray.

  6. Jay Says:

    My baby was born 26 weeks. He was on ventilators then switch to CPAP. He is now at week 29. Swollen eyes and sinks on faces caused by masks and strap. Small brain bleed. Infections (serratia – hospital infection), presumed meningitis. Love my boy to death. Only small obstacles to make us stronger.

  7. Ali Says:

    Hi Ali here from India, my wife was on high blood pressure and twin babies were born around 34weeks, both r boy babys, twin 1 is doing fine without any breathing support, twin 2 was on ventilator from the day one of delivery doctor advised on 5th day of the delivery that twin 2 is doing fine and dey removed the ventilator
    Today morning around 4am dey again have given ventilator on 6th day
    But doctor tells he’s on minimum pressure of ventilation, and not to worry but being a FATHER m very much worried
    After going from all ua comments hope my twin2 will also b recovered very soon
    Can someone help me on this situation

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