Your Baby’s Breathing while Sleeping

It is important to check your baby’s breathing while they sleep and many parents do so. This is because, though uncommon, cot death and sudden infant death syndrome are a very real concern for parents when caring for their child.

What is normal breathing for a sleeping baby?

Newborn babies tend to breathe in a cycle when they sleep, with their breaths tending to go faster and then slow down, before becoming shallow. This is often categorised as periodic breathing, where your baby will take pauses but then resume breathing taking deeper breaths. If you are concerned about your baby’s breathing when sleeping you could try checking the following:

  • Watch your baby to see if their chest is rising as this is sure sign they are breathing
  • Listen to hear if your baby is breathing
  • You can feel if your baby is breathing by getting close and pressing your cheek against theirs

Obstructive apnea

Some babies suffer with a condition called obstructive apnea, which is an obstruction of the airway that makes it difficult for children to breathe. Obstructive apnea is more likely to happen when your baby is asleep, though there are symptoms you can look out for:

  • Your child may feel very sleepy after waking up
  • Some children have attention problems when suffering from obstructive apnea
  • Your child may snore and then pause or gasp when sleeping
  • Your child may sleep in unusual positions and be restless

Central and mixed apnea

This sleeping disorder is most likely to occur in infants, and is when the brain does not maintain the breathing process properly. Premature babies are most susceptible to central apnea as the brain still needs to develop sufficiently. Mixed apnea is a combination of central and obstructive apnea and is common in infants and young children. Children who suffer from mixed apnea normally have the symptom of abnormal breathing.

What to do if you think your child has sleep related breathing problems

If you suspect your child may have a sleep related breathing problem you should consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor may refer you to sleep specialist or alternatively carry out tests to see whether your child is suffering from a breathing problem.

Baby breathing monitor

A baby breathing monitor is a device which measures your baby’s breathing; if your baby does not breathe for more than 20 seconds, it sounds an alarm.

Should I buy a breathing monitor?

It is perfectly understandable to be concerned and worried about your baby’s breathing when they are asleep; however, the risk of something happening to them is very low and most doctors advise parents not to buy breathing monitors if your baby is healthy and developing well. Surveys conducted amongst doctors and paediatricians have found that the vast majority of professionals feel that baby breathing monitors can cause heightened anxiety and do not reduce the risk of cot death. In some cases, breathing monitors may also cause false alarms, which can panic parents and make them feel very uneasy.

In some cases, baby breathing monitors may be given to premature babies but babies that are fit and healthy do not need a breathing monitor, according to health professionals. Parents who have lost a baby to cot death in the past may also be offered a baby breathing monitor; however, doctors say it is important that people realise that using a monitor will not help to prevent cot death.

Preventing cot death

It is impossible to prevent cot death, as nobody really knows the cause; however, there are some steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Steps include:

  • Make sure you put your baby down on their back
  • Avoid smoking near your baby and give up during pregnancy
  • Make sure your baby isn’t too hot; if it is warm outside, put them down in just a nappy and a vest and take away blankets
  • Do not give babies under 12 months a duvet
  • Place your baby at the bottom end of their cot, so that they can’t wriggle under the covers
  • Ensure your baby’s face is not covered while they sleep
  • Don’t go overboard with covers and blankets

Guide to Sleeping for Mother and Baby:

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