Everything You Need To Know About Infant Sleep Apnea

Breathing disorders in babies often worry moms and infant sleep apnea is one of them. As the name indicates, it is a sleep-related breathing disorder – a serious disorder in which breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep. There are lots of misconception about sleep apnea among elders. It is important to get the right information when you deal with it in your kids. Here we give all the information you need to know about sleep apnea.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when a baby stops breathing during sleep. Even though any baby can have sleep apnea, babies who were born prematurely are at an increased risk. It is because premature infants do not have fully developed central nervous systems, thus, causing repeated pauses in breathing. The more premature a baby is, the more likely he/she is to have apnea. And infants who weigh less than 2.2 pounds at birth are at higher risk. It is also seen that children with Down syndrome and other congenital conditions have a greater chance of getting apnea.


Some babies with sleep apnea stop breathing for 20 seconds or longer while they sleep. At the same time, some others stop breathing for shorter periods and as a result, they turn pale or blue. But, remember, brief pauses in breathing during sleep are normal. It’s a red flag only when breathing stops often and for longer periods.

In most cases, infant sleep apnea goes away on its own when the child matures. But, it can be dangerous in some cases and can lead to learning, behavior, growth, and heart problems. In very rare cases, it can even be fatal. If a baby born before 28 weeks gestation gets sleep apnea, it can lead to serious complications. When the infant sleep apnea is related to another severe medical condition, the complications increase.


There are three types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): It is caused by a blockage in the upper airway. It happens when soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway during sleep. Usually, adults and children age 1 year and older get affected by OSA.
Central sleep apnea (CSA): It happens when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. This is the common type in full-term infants and larger premature babies.
Mixed apnea: A combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. Smaller premature babies most often have mixed apnea.


Causes Of Sleep Apnea

Here are the possible causes of apnea:

  • Immaturity of the brain stem
  • An airway obstruction
  • Small upper airway
  • Birth defect
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Infection
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Risk factors for sleep apnea:

  • Premature birth
  • Family history
  • A large tongue which can fall back and block the airway during sleep
  • Structural defect in mouth, jaw, or throat that can narrow the airway
  • certain medical conditions, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy

Symptoms To Watch Out For

When a baby suffers from sleep apnea, he/she often wakes up from sleep due to breathing troubles. This will disrupt the sleep, leaving them tired and fussy in the morning. They may find it difficult to wake up in the morning and they may be tired throughout the day due to lack of sound sleep in the night. This may also result in behavior problems. Watch out for these symptoms in kids:

  • Breathing cessation greater than 20 seconds
  • Heavy breathing while sleeping
  • Snoring
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Bed wetting
  • Sleepy during daytime
  • Behavioral problems


If you see any of these warning signs in your kid, talk to your doctor. Most probably the doctor will go ahead with a sleep study, which helps doctors diagnose sleep disorders.


If your baby is diagnosed with sleep apnea, it is best to monitor your kid until he/she outgrows it. Use a home apnea monitor to keep track of your baby’s breathing and heart rate. Sometimes the doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps the airway open by blowing air into the nose through a mask during sleep.

You need to diagnose and treat any medical condition that causes sleep apnea in your baby. The doctor may prescribe treatment with medication accordingly.


Also, it is safe to learn how to administer pediatric CPR. This will help you begin emergency treatment immediately if your baby experiences breathing issues.