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What is Neonatal Ventilation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Neonatal ventilation is artificial respiration provided to a very young infant with the assistance of a ventilator, a machine which can be programmed to deliver air of a set mixture and pressure. Babies are most commonly placed on ventilators when they are premature and their lungs are not yet able to function independently. While on a ventilator, a baby is kept under observation in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), also known as a special care baby unit (SCBU) and the baby is monitored very closely by specialists.

There are some very special challenges with neonatal ventilation. The lungs of an infant are obviously much smaller than those of an adult and they are also much more fragile. An infant may not be able to breathe independently at all, or may not be able to meet ventilation and oxygen needs without help. Ventilation has to be done carefully to reduce the risk of infections and to limit complications which can arise from ventilation.

Premature babies are commonly put on neonatal ventilation because their lungs aren't always fully developed.
Premature babies are commonly put on neonatal ventilation because their lungs aren't always fully developed.

The respiratory ventilator is connected with a tube which is inserted into the baby's trachea. The settings on the ventilator can be adjusted to determine how much oxygen is delivered, how many breaths occur each minute, and how high the pressure is. The baby's condition is monitored with physical examinations and blood gas tests, in which a small sample of blood is taken and tested for dissolved gases. Neonatal ventilation often requires frequent adjustments to address changes in the baby's condition.

Neonatal ventilation has to be done carefully to prevent the risk of infections and limit complications.
Neonatal ventilation has to be done carefully to prevent the risk of infections and limit complications.

The goal with neonatal ventilation is to support the infant while she or he develops a bit more, so that eventually the baby can be taken off the ventilator and allowed to breathe alone. Sometimes after the ventilator is disconnected, the baby requires supplemental oxygen at first, until she or he is eventually able to breathe without assistance.

For parents of infants who require neonatal ventilation and other medical interventions, the process can be scary. Nurses and doctors who care for premature infants can provide information about procedures in the NICU and why various procedures are performed. It is important to remember that the prognosis for a premature baby can change very rapidly and a baby's condition may fluctuate considerably from day to day. Parents may find it helpful to connect with other people who have been in similar situations so that they can get a better idea of what to expect. Some hospitals provide support groups for parents of premature babies along with other support.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Premature babies are commonly put on neonatal ventilation because their lungs aren't always fully developed.
      By: Aleksey
      Premature babies are commonly put on neonatal ventilation because their lungs aren't always fully developed.
    • Neonatal ventilation has to be done carefully to prevent the risk of infections and limit complications.
      By: Kadmy
      Neonatal ventilation has to be done carefully to prevent the risk of infections and limit complications.
    • Critically ill newborns who struggle to breathe on their own may need the assistance of supplemental oxygen or a ventilator.
      By: Gert Vrey
      Critically ill newborns who struggle to breathe on their own may need the assistance of supplemental oxygen or a ventilator.
    • There are some very special challenges with neonatal ventilation.
      By: Sabryna Washington
      There are some very special challenges with neonatal ventilation.