Rapid Breathing in Newborns

Transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTNB) can occur in both full-term and pre-term babies. All babies have liquid-filled lungs prior to birth. As part of normal labor, some of this fluid begins to be pumped out of the baby’s lungs prior to birth. In the absence of normal labor, this will not occur. After birth, this pumping action in the lungs continues.

If the pumping does not take place in a normal manner during and after labor, breathing difficulties will occur. This will show up as rapid breathing or very noisy breathing. Some babies will have low oxygen levels as a result. This condition usually improves after a few hours. However, it may require significant treatment in order to speed up the recovery.

Treatments for Rapid Breathing in Newborns

As experts in critically ill babies, our neonatal team can help if your newborn has the rapid or very noisy breathing of transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTNB). We offer several treatments that can help your child. The good news is that this condition can improve quite quickly. Some babies improve quickly enough that they are able to leave the neonatal unit and return to the mother-baby unit before the mother is discharged from the hospital.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
The CPAP device consists of a small mask or short prongs that insert a short distance into the baby’s nose. Constant air pressure is then delivered through this device. The pressure is transmitted through the windpipe down into the baby’s lungs to help inflate the lungs. This makes it easier for the baby to breathe. In addition, this extra pressure may speed up the movement of fluid from the lungs into the baby’s body. Additional oxygen can be delivered with this device if the baby needs it.

How long CPAP is necessary varies from baby to baby, but can be as short as just a few hours. Blood tests are done every few hours while the baby is on CPAP. This helps us to adjust the level of support that we are giving and guides us on when to stop the CPAP.

Intravenous Fluids
Because your baby’s breathing rate is too high to eat, intravenous fluids may be necessary to keep your baby healthy. Once the baby’s breathing status has improved and CPAP is no longer necessary, we will likely start milk feedings at that time. Occasionally a baby may still be breathing too fast to drink by mouth. If so, tube feedings may be required for a short period of time.