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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

Learn More

Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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Abnormal Lung Function

In the womb, a fetus is given oxygen from the blood that travels through the umbilical cord. The oxygen-rich blood flows from the mother, via the placenta, to the baby through a vein in the cord. The blood vessels that run between the placenta and uterus act similarly to the lungs, and it is in the vessels that gas exchange happens.

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Infant Breathing Disorders

The lungs are usually one of the last organs to develop in a baby’s body in the prenatal stage. Some parts of the lungs actually do not develop until the final phase of pregnancy. Premature babies may not have enough time to allow lungs to develop fully, which can lead to a range of disorders.

Some symptoms include:

Elk & Elk
  • Grunting
  • Not breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils

Typically, prematurity is the number one cause of respiration disorders in terms of lung development. If a baby’s lungs have not fully developed by the time that they are born, they may have difficulties with breathing.

Current State of Evidence

Cooling therapy is an evidence-based clinical treatment aimed at increasing an injured infant’s chance of survival without brain damage. Currently, though, evidence only relates to full term infants at 36 weeks gestation or later.

There are potential side effects on the developing premature baby with lung disease, and there has been evident protection by cooling therapy when a larger volume of the complex brain is developing.

Babies tend to be at higher risk of developing a respiratory disorder if they are born before lungs have fully matured. Therefore, babies placed under cooling therapy whose lungs have yet to develop fully, are at risk for complications.

Diagnosing Breathing Disorders in Babies

The doctor might diagnose a baby with a breathing disorder based on several signs and symptoms. Further, diagnostic tests can be carried out to help determine if the baby does have a breathing problem. Tests may include:

  • Pulse oximetry which measures oxygen levels in the blood
  • An X-ray of the lungs
  • Arterial blood gas test which measures levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen, and acidity, in the blood

Typically, abnormal lung function is treated with oxygen therapy, medication, or mechanical ventilation. Medication can be administered while the baby undergoes cooling therapy.

The baby’s long-term outlook will depend on the type of breathing disorder, the symptom severity symptoms, and gestational age.