Helping Baby Breathe

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A large portion of NICU care revolves around respiratory support for infants who have difficulty breathing and require special care for this problem. There are various ways to help provide this support, ranging from Intermittent Mandatory Ventilation (IMV) to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or an oxyhood.

An oxyhood is a clear plastic dome that fits over the infant's head to deliver a constant concentration of oxygen. Your baby's oxygen level will be monitored by a machine called an oximeter. The staff adjusts the oxygen (room air is 21% oxygen) in the oxyhood based on the oxygen level in your baby's bloodstream as detected by the oximeter.

CPAP is used when an infant can breathe on his own but not effectively enough to keep his oxygen at an adequate level. When an infant is on CPAP, small prongs, or nasal cannula, are placed in the nose and a head strap is used to secure the tubing. CPAP delivers a continuous flow of air and oxygen to keep the small air sacs in the lungs inflated.

IMV works by placing a small tube, called an endotracheal tube (ET), into the baby's windpipe. This is connected to a ventilator that assists with the baby's breathing. Because the ET tube is placed between the vocal cords and the windpipe, you will not be able to hear your baby cry.

There are some respiratory problems that benefit from a substance called Surfactant. This is a medication given through an endotracheal tube into baby's lungs to help keep the air sacs open. A neonatalogist determines the need for this treatment based on the infant's condition.

An important part of your baby's care may include treatments given by a respiratory therapist (RT). One type of treatment called percussion helps loosen lung secretions. The therapist will use either a padded electric vibrator or padded plastic cup. Another type of treatment, known as suctioning, involves the removal of secretions from the lungs or back of the mouth.

If you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s care, please ask the doctors or nurses attending to your baby.

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