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What is Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Meshell Powell
Meshell Powell

Infant respiratory distress syndrome is a medical condition that may develop when a baby is born prematurely, before the lungs have had the chance to fully develop. Babies who are born with infant respiratory distress syndrome are not able to make enough of the liquid surfactant, which coats the lungs and makes breathing possible. Some of the symptoms of infant respiratory distress syndrome may include rapid or shallow breathing, a blue color to the skin, or decreased urine output. Treatment often involves the use of oxygen therapy, a breathing machine, and gentle handling of the newborn.

The vast majority of babies who are born with infant respiratory distress syndrome are born at least six weeks before the due date. The lungs are often not developed well enough at this time to allow the baby to breathe without assistance. The medical team will notice possible signs of this condition within minutes of birth, and emergency supportive care will begin right away.

Doctor with a baby
Doctor with a baby

Aside from being born prematurely, there are some other potential risk factors for being born with infant respiratory distress syndrome. Some of these risk factors include having a sibling who was born with this condition, maternal diabetes, or a multiple birth. Babies who are born via c-section also have a higher risk of having this type of respiratory distress, as are those who were born as the result of a rapid delivery.

Some of the signs that may lead doctors to diagnose infant respiratory distress syndrome include blue skin and rapid, shallow breathing. Breathing may even stop for a moment or so, a condition known as apnea. The baby may make grunting noises instead of crying and may flare the nostrils. A decreased urine output is also possible. Blood tests and chest x-rays may be performed in order to confirm the diagnosis.

A baby who is born with infant respiratory distress syndrome will be given supplemental oxygen therapy to make sure that enough oxygen is reaching vital organs such as the brain. In some cases, a breathing machine may have to be used until the baby is able to breathe without assistance. The newborn must be handled very gently during this time so that there is no added stress on the body, as this could increase the breathing difficulty. The baby will be monitored closely, but there will need to be as few disturbances as possible during treatment.

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    • Doctor with a baby
      Doctor with a baby