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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.
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.
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.