Sleep apnea is a serious issue, and it’s one that can cause a number of long-term issues for your baby if it’s not identified and treated rapidly.

Sleep apnea in babies can be caused by any number of different conditions and situations. For most babies, the cause of sleep apnea tends to relate to the central nervous system in one way or another. There are a number of other possible causes, however, such as:

  • bleeding in the brain
  • infections
  • reflux and other gastrointestinal problems
  • exposure to toxic chemicals, poisons or drugs
  • certain birth defects
  • respiratory disease
  • blood chemistry imbalances, such as glucose and calcium
  • heart or blood vessel problems.

If you think that your baby might have sleep apnea, there are some specific symptoms you want to watch out for. In the most basic definition, a baby that has sleep apnea will stop breathing during sleep. For a baby in a sleep lab, this means going for more than 20 seconds without a breath. For older children whose respiratory systems are more mature it means ten seconds. You might also see the baby turn blue, and she might gasp or gas when she eventually does take a breath.

You also need to remember, however, that it’s pretty normal for a baby under the age of six months to experience a phenomenon known as “periodic breathing.” What this means is that the baby will breathe faster for a little while, then slow down, and then may pause for as much as 15 seconds before breathing normally.

If your baby experiences sleep apnea right after being born while you’re still at the hospital, your baby’s doctor is likely to ask to monitor your baby before he goes home.

Next time, we’ll take a look at how sleep apnea in babies is diagnosed, as well as how it can be treated.