What is apnea? A common health problem in premature babies, apnea spells may involve a pause in breathing, a decrease in heart rate, or a change in skin color. Apnea is caused by immaturity in the area of the brain that controls breathing. Almost all babies born at 30 weeks or less will experience apnea. These spells become less frequent with age and should disappear by time the baby nears his due date.
Is apnea dangerous? Although highly unlikely, apnea could lead to a low blood oxygen content, which in turn could cause brain damage. Apnea can also cause strain on a baby's heart and lungs. Despite past fears, a newborn's apnea does not increase her risk of SIDS.
How is apnea treated? Treating apnea can be as simple as gently stimulating the infant to restart breathing. However, when apnea occurs frequently, the infant may require medication, a ventilator, or a nasal device that blows a steady stream of air into her airways.