Can Babies Have Sleep Apnea?

Could My Baby Have Sleep Apnea?

While national health studies warn about the prevalence of adult sleep apnea which affects more than 25 million Americans and its dangers to public health, many don’t realize that even infants can have the chronic disease. The National Sleep Foundation estimates sleep apnea affects two to to three percent of children of all ages and that up to 69 percent of children younger than 11 have a sleep-related problem of some kind. Sleep apnea is concerning due to complications like low blood oxygen (hypoxemia), slow heartbeat (bradycardia) and losing consciousness. So how do you know if your infant has sleep apnea?

What Is Sleep Apnea?

When there is a complete pause in breathing, it’s called “apnea.” Sleep apnea in babies is a sleep-related breathing disorder. If your baby’s breathing is only partially reduced, it’s called “hypopneas.” For infants, sleep apnea occurs more often during the deep REM (rapid eye movement) part of the sleep cycle. Infant sleep apnea will likely go away as your baby grows. By 40 weeks after conception, 98 percent of preterm infants will be symptom-free. For babies born less than 28 weeks after conception, sleep apnea is more likely to persist longer.

Types Of Infant Sleep Apneas

Sleep apneas can be divided into three types:

  1. Central. When a baby’s body decreases or stops its effort to breathe, they have central sleep apnea. Central apneas are the most common type of sleep apnea in babies and is found more in larger premature infants or full-term, healthy infants. Babies ordinarily have some instability in their breathing. This breathing difficulty usually comes from a problem in the brain or heart and it normally doesn’t last longer than 20 seconds. It can also be a normal part of the development of your infant, occurring randomly just once or after your baby sighs or moves.
  2. Obstructive. When soft tissue in the back of the throat caves in, blocking the airway during sleep, your baby has obstructive apnea. Obstructive apneas are rare in healthy infants.
  3. Mixed. Mixed apneas are when your baby has a central apnea that is directly followed by an obstructive apnea. The majority of apneas that occur in small premature infants are mixed apneas.

Watch For These Sleep Apnea Symptoms

  • Breathing Cessation Greater than 20 Seconds: If your baby stops breathing for up to 15 seconds, that can be normal, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. However, if your infant stops breathing for 20 seconds or more, he or she could have obstructive sleep apnea and you should notify your San Jose doctor. Also, if your baby has a pattern of repeated pauses in breathing that last 20 seconds, you should contact your doctor.
  • Turning Blue: If your baby has a bluish forehead and body torso, that could be a warning sign of oxygen deficiency. Bluish lips sometimes are normal, but pay special attention to your baby’s facial expressions and watch for a worn out look.
  • Gasping and Gagging: If your baby gags or gasps for breath after a long interruption in breathing, it could be a serious symptom of sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the brain actually “forgets” to tell the baby’s diaphragm to breath. In premature babies, often the cause is central sleep apnea followed by an obstruction in breathing due to the immaturity of the respiratory system.
  • Limpness: Watch your baby for a change in muscle tone that might appear to be a limpness of their muscles. This happens because of the low level of oxygen which is used first for the core organs with little leftover for the body’s extremities.
  • Slow Heartbeat: If you notice a slow heart rate in your baby, you should see your doctor immediately. Known as “bradycardia,” this may lead to your baby falling unconscious and needing resuscitation.

What Causes Infant Sleep Apnea?

There are several different medical conditions that can cause infant sleep apnea or make it worse. Although full-term or larger preterm infants sometimes have sleep apnea, it most likely occurs in small babies who are born preterm. In these infants, sleep apnea usually appears between the second and seventh day of life. Its presence at birth is usually a sign of another illness. It’s less common in babies under the age of six months. Other conditions that can contribute to sleep apnea may include:

  • Problems with development of the vital brainstem
  • Acid reflux
  • Anemia
  • Anesthesia
  • Drugs
  • Infection
  • Lung disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neurological problems
  • Seizures
  • Small upper airway

A small percentage of children who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have apnea symptoms prior to death. But infant sleep apnea has not been established as a risk factor for SIDS.

Get Treatment For Your Sleep Apnea

If your baby shows signs of infant sleep apnea, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or a qualified sleep apnea expert. A sleep specialist, like the doctors at Spark Sleep Solutions can examine your baby and compile all of the symptoms for a qualified diagnosis and treatment plan. Your doctor may order an overnight sleep study to chart your baby’s brain waves, heartbeat and breathing during sleep. You will accompany your baby on this overnight test. It is the best way to accurately diagnose your baby’s sleep problems. Treatment may include: a breathing machine, medications, or treatment of any other medical condition causing the apnea. For a free consultation with our sleep apnea experts about your baby’s sleep challenges, contact Spark Sleep Solutions at one of our convenient locations listed below. We’re here to answer all of your questions and make sure your baby receives the individualized treatment he or she needs.

Santa Cruz, CA
(408) 490-0182

San Jose, CA
(408) 490-0182

San Ramon, CA
(408) 490-0182

Los Gatos, CA
(408) 676-5323