Sleep Apnea In Babies - 6 Causes & 6 Symptoms You Should Be Aware Of

Sleep Apnea

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To sleep like a baby has got be the ultimate luxury. But dangers lurk even while your baby sleeps! As a parent, you need to be aware of all that can go wrong. No, you don’t need to worry about every sneeze and sniffle. But you do need to have an awareness about your baby’s body rhythm.

SIDS is something all new parents worry about. But there is another sleep-related danger not many talk about. Yes, we are talking about sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea In Babies?

Anybody can suffer from sleep apnea, including your baby. It is a serious problem where our normal breathing stops many times while we sleep. There are three kinds of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This type of sleep apnea is caused by a blockage.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This is caused because the brain forgets to ‘tell’ the muscles to breathe.
  • Mixed Apnea: This is a condition where OSA and Central Sleep Apnea co-exist.

In babies, central apnea is the most common form of apnea. While for adults and toddlers, OSA is the most common type.

[ Read: Baby Sleep Problems ]

What Causes Sleep Apnea In Babies?

There are several causes that can lead to sleep apnea. Here are the major ones:

1. Prematurity: 

Premature babies are at a higher risk of apnea. The more premature the baby, the higher the chances of apnea. In fact, prematurity is the biggest cause of baby sleep apnea.

2. Bleeding In The Brain: 

Premature babies can suffer from brain bleeds. This too can lead sleep apnea.

3. Drugs: 

Exposure to drugs while in the womb too can lead to incidents of apnea.

4. Congenital Defects: 

Certain conditions like Down Syndrome can make the risk of sleep apnea increase manifold in babies.

5. Imbalance In Body Chemistry: 

Some babies may develop sleep apnea due to an imbalance in body chemistry. These babies may have an incorrect amount of calcium or glucose in their body.

6. Others: 

Some other causes of sleep apnea in babies include:

  • Birth defect
  • Infection
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Reflux or GERD
  • Heart problems

[ Read: Is It Ok For Baby To Sleep On Side ]

Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea In Babies:

It is normal for babies younger than six months to have irregular breathing. If you notice your infant, you’ll see that she goes through periods of rapid breathing, followed by slower breathing. She can even pause for as long as 15 seconds before she breathes normally again. This is common among babies and nothing to worry about.

But if your baby shows any of the following baby sleep apnea symptoms, you should discuss it with your pediatrician.

  1. Pause between breaths that last 20 seconds or more
  2. Gasping for breathe
  3. Gagging
  4. Face or body turning blue
  5. Limp body
  6. Slow heartbeat

If you notice any of last three symptoms, call an ambulance. Remember, sleep apnea can be fatal. As your baby stops breathing, the level of oxygen in her body drops. This can lead to bradycardia or a drop in your baby’s heart rate. That is why it is important to get a correct diagnosis as soon as possible.


If you suspect your baby has sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your doctor. She will run a number of tests to get the right diagnosis. The tests will include measuring the amount of oxygen in your baby’s body, monitoring her breathing and heart rate, and even an X-ray. The most common test used to diagnose sleep apnea is called a polysomnogram. You may even be referred to a sleep specialist or an apnea specialist.

Treating Sleep Apnea:

Even though it sounds scary, sleep apnea can be managed easily. The treatment plan depends on the severity of the symptoms your baby exhibits. If the symptoms are mild, your doctor may simply suggest monitoring your baby’s heart rate and breathing. In the case of more serious symptoms, your baby may be given medication to stimulate her central nervous system.

If your baby has OSA, she might need a CPAP. The CPAP is a special device that makes breathing easier and keeps the airway open.

[ Read: Sleep Positioner For Babies ]

When To Call For Help?

If you notice your baby not breathing, try to wake her up. If she doesn’t respond, call an ambulance. If your baby’s forehead or trunk looks blue, you need to rush. But remember that it is normal for your baby’s hands, feet, and the area around the mouth to be bluish.

Even before the ambulance arrives, you can begin infant CPR. If you don’t already know how to administer it, learn today. A few minutes of CPR before help arrives can save your baby’s life.

[ Read: Best Baby Monitors ]

Knowledge is power. Read up on sleep apnea to make sure you know all there’s to know about it. And also learn to administer infant CPR. Not only is it a must if your baby has sleep apnea, it is something all parents should have in their skill set. You never know when you’ll need it!

Have you noticed episodes of sleep apnea in your baby? What other symptoms does your baby exhibit? Tell us about your experience with sleep apnea in the comments section below.

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