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Sleep Apnea of Prematurity

After they’re born, babies must breathe continually to get oxygen.  Babies born prematurely have immature nervous systems that keep them from breathing on their own non-stop.


Apnea is a medical term that means a baby has stopped breathing for more than 20 seconds during sleep.  This may also come with:

  • A drop in heart rate below 80 beats/min
  • Change in color (blue or pale) around the face & mouth
  • A drop in the amount of oxygen in the blood

The treatment for apnea protects a baby while their body grows enough to support itself.  Before bringing home your baby with an apnea monitor, you should call your local rescue squad and/or fire department and tell them that you will have this equipment in your home.  You should also plan for power outages by contacting your electrical company and request to be alerted during scheduled maintenance.  You may also want to have access to a generator as a safety precaution.


Your doctor may recommend continued home monitoring as part of your baby’s treatment.  Just as in the hospital, these monitors will sound an alarm if the baby’s heart rate or breathing rate drops below normal levels.

Apnea is a condition that all babies outgrow.  Neither long-term brain damage nor other health issues such as SIDS are linked to apnea.  It can be frightening, but it is a temporary situation.