Posts Tagged ‘respiratory distress syndrome’

What is a respiratory therapist?

Monday, October 30th, 2017

If your baby is in the NICU, you know that there are a lot of people caring for her and helping her to get stronger each day. One of those NICU team members may be a respiratory therapist. A respiratory therapist (or RT) cares for babies with breathing problems.

When your baby first arrives in the NICU, a respiratory therapist evaluates her breathing. The RT looks to see if your baby is breathing too fast, if the breaths are shallow, or if she’s struggling to breathe. Then, together with the rest of the NICU team, the RT develops a treatment plan to help care for your baby.

Here are some common conditions that a respiratory therapist may see in the NICU:

Breathing problems: Premature babies often have breathing problems because their lungs are not fully developed. Full-term babies also can develop breathing problems due to complications of labor and delivery, birth defects and infections.

Apnea: Premature babies sometimes do not breathe regularly. A baby may take a long breath, then a short one, then pause for 5 to 10 seconds before starting to breathe normally. This is called periodic breathing. Apnea is when a baby stops breathing for more than 15 seconds. Apnea may be accompanied by a slow heart rate called bradycardia. Babies in the NICU are constantly monitored for apnea and bradycardia (often called “A’s and B’s”).

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): Babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy often develop RDS. Babies with RDS do not have enough surfactant, which keeps the small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing.

Pneumonia: This lung infection is common in premature and other sick newborns. A baby’s doctors may suspect pneumonia if the baby has difficulty breathing, if her rate of breathing changes, or if the baby has an increased number of apnea episodes.

Many babies who need treatment for breathing problems 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 or as often as needed and are an important part of your baby’s NICU team.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Pneumonia and preemies

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

BabyOnChest-Pneumonia is an infection in the lung(s) which can make it hard to breathe. Premature infants are more prone to developing infections due to their immature immune systems. They were born before they could acquire their mother’s antibodies to fight off infection, which are usually transferred in the third trimester. In addition, due to prematurity, their lungs are not fully formed, making it easier to develop infections such as pneumonia.

Causes and treatments

Pneumonia can have different causes: viral, bacterial or even fungal. It can be hard for doctors to diagnose pneumonia, as it can look like other common preemie disorders, (eg. Respiratory Distress Syndrome). In addition, it may take some time for blood, urine or other lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. Therefore, as soon as pneumonia is suspected, most babies will receive an antibiotic that can fight a broad spectrum of bacteria to help combat the infection. Once the tests confirm the type of infection, the medication may be altered.

Your baby may also receive oxygen to help him breathe easier, or he may be placed on a ventilator. Keeping your baby well hydrated and nourished are also top priorities – his body needs nutrients to fight the infection. With all of this treatment, your baby’s lungs can begin to repair themselves.

Can pneumonia be prevented?

A premature baby may develop different infections for the reasons noted above. But the spread of infections can be avoided through the use of proper hygiene. Visitors who come to the NICU should be free from illness (colds, sore throats, coughs). All visitors should wash hands thoroughly or use foam disinfectant before seeing or touching your baby.

Some infections can spread through the air. Having visitors wear a face mask that covers the nose and mouth can provide an added layer of protection for your baby. NICU staff follows strict protocols regarding hand washing and keeping equipment squeaky clean. They are aware of how to prevent the spread of germs.

The good news

Most babies respond well to medications and recover without lasting issues.

Reflections on Jacqueline Kennedy

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

With the awareness and news coverage this week of the Kennedy assassination, I fell to thinking about the strength of Jacqueline Kennedy.   Not only had she lost her husband but a few months before she had also lost her infant son as a result of premature birth.

Mrs. Kennedy had a history of difficult pregnancies.  She had a miscarriage in 1955, followed by a stillbirth in 1956.  While Caroline was full term, John Jr. was a preemie and of course, her final child, Patrick died after only living 40 hours from what we now call Respiratory Distress Syndrome.   Sadly, this occurred 27 years before the March of Dimes grantees helped develop surfactant therapy, which was introduced in 1990.

Mrs. Kennedy was a heavy smoker and smoked throughout her pregnancies.  This was before the US Surgeon General’s warning was known to the public. Although smoking was more common in those years, no one was aware of the repercussions of smoking during pregnancy. Today, it is still a risk factor for stillbirth, low birth weight babies and prematurity. The Great American Smokeout was yesterday; if you do smoke, please consider quitting.  Smokefree.gov has tips.

I also want to highlight the possible effects of stress in pregnancy. There are several types of stress that can cause problems during pregnancy.  Negative life events, like death in the family, long-lasting stress such as depression and being the wife of the President, could have also played a role.

The loss of any child is difficult; I cannot image the pain she went through.  Premature birth can and does happen to any woman.