Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person stops breathing while they are sleeping. The amount of time spent not breathing varies, but is sometimes long enough to be harmful, especially when the sleeper is an infant.
In most cases, your pediatrician will know if your baby has sleep apnea before she is sent home from the hospital. If, however, you ever notice that your baby stops breathing while she is sleeping, even for brief periods, you should contact your baby’s pediatrician right away to have her tested for infant sleep apnea.
If you notice that your baby is not breathing, you can often help her to start breathing again by simply rubbing her back gently. If rubbing her back doesn’t work, nudge her. If your baby still does not start breathing, you should start infant CPR and call 911. Going without oxygen for even short periods of time can be very harmful to your baby.
All parents should learn infant CPR. It is especially important if your baby has been diagnosed with infant sleep apnea.
If a baby is suspected of having infant sleep apnea, you will be given a breathing monitor to use while your baby is sleeping. Without going into great detail, you attach electrodes to your baby’s chest, and the monitor sounds an alarm if your baby’s breathing becomes too shallow or stops entirely.
In most cases, medical technicians will be sent directly to your home with the monitor, and they will show you how to set it up and properly operate it. In addition to serving as an alarm to alert you if baby stops breathing, the monitor will keep track of baby’s sleeping patterns, providing your pediatrician with valuable information regarding your baby’s sleeping and breathing patterns.
Premature babies are more likely to have problems with infant sleep apnea than babies who were born at full term. However, any baby can develop sleep apnea. While it is not overly common, it is something to look for when your baby is sleeping. If you do notice that your baby has periods when she stops breathing, especially if the pauses last 20 seconds or longer, you should consult your health care professional right away.