Diseases & Conditions


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Baby breathing difficulties


Babies can develop breathing difficulties Apnoea attack occurs when a baby stops breathing. It affects approximately 500 babies a year. What is apnoea? Apnoea means that air flow into the lungs has stopped. This can be because the baby stops breathing, or because the windpipe or airways have become blocked. In some instances, it may be due to a combination of both factors. What impact does it have? Irregular breathing and short apnoeic pauses are normal in young babies and have no adverse effects. According to the Foundation for the Study of Sudden Infant Deaths (FSSID), sometimes babies stop breathing for a longer period and have a sudden drop in blood oxygen which is accompanied by a colour change in the skin which turns blue or white. They may also become floppy and may choke or gag. This is called an Apparent Life Threatening Event (ALTE). Other infants may become stiff or have a staring spell. What causes an ALTE? ALTEs may be associated with an identifiable disease or condition such as an infection. They may also be linked to the inhalation of vomit. However, in about half of the cases a cause is not found. In some instances it appears that a baby somehow forgets how to breathe. Some babies with unexplained ALTEs may have repeat attacks. What should be done? The baby may need vigorous stimulation and resuscitation to start normal breathing. Learning how to do this is complicated, and the FSSID recommends that all parents take a course in stimulation and resuscitation prior to the birth of their child. Is apnoea relevant to cot death? Cot death is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby for no obvious reason. The actual causes of cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have not yet been established. It is not known whether a baby dies because breathing has stopped, or whether breathing has ceased because the baby is dead. There are some similarities between babies who have prolonged apnoeic attacks and cot death babies. For example, they occur in the same age range, are more frequent in boys than girls, and are more common in premature babies. Some babies with ALTEs have been shown to be at greater risk of sudden death. However, a recent UK study found that less than 4% of cot death babies had a history of apnoea.