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Is it strange that I often feel the need to check my baby's breathing?
No, and you're not alone. Check on your child as often as you feel you need to. If your baby is premature or has a chronic lung disease or another condition, such as sleep apnea, you may have to monitor your baby's breathing, at least for a while. But even if your baby doesn't have a medical problem, you may worry that he could develop one, such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
It may help to keep in mind that babies have various stages of slumber – sometimes deep and still, sometimes active and noisy. Your comfort level should grow with your experience as a parent, but it's okay if you continue to visit your child's bedroom nightly, just to check on his breathing, for years to come.
How can I stop worrying so much about SIDS?
It may calm your fears to know that SIDS is rare, afflicting fewer than one in 1,000 infants. What's more, 90 percent of SIDS cases happen before age 6 months, and the risk virtually disappears once a baby reaches her first birthday.
Although there are plenty of theories, no one knows exactly what causes SIDS, and there's no surefire way to prevent it. Thankfully, the incidence of SIDS has dropped dramatically in recent years as more risk factors are identified and more parents learn to avoid them.
To guard against SIDS, put your baby to sleep on her back, and if you or another family member smokes, consider giving it up. (Read more about reducing the risk of SIDS.) Make sure anyone who watches your baby knows to put her to sleep on her back – many SIDS deaths happen when a caregiver puts a baby down on her tummy when the baby is used to sleeping on her back.
Don’t use pillows or sleep positioners in your baby’s crib. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that sleep positioners do nothing to prevent SIDS and may increase the baby's risk of suffocation.
It's also a good idea to learn infant and child CPR. Knowing CPR will ease your fears and enable you to respond to any serious breathing emergencies throughout childhood.
Call the Red Cross or a local hospital to find an infant CPR class, or consider organizing an infant CPR party for yourself and other new parents in your area. Take your spouse and babysitter along too.
How can I tell if my baby has stopped breathing, and what should I do about it?
In most cases, babies' irregular breathing habits are nothing to worry about. While sleeping, newborns may do what's called periodic breathing: They breathe progressively more quickly and deeply, then more slowly and shallowly, then pause for up to 15 seconds. They start up again with progressively deeper breaths.
This is common – especially among preemies – and will evolve into a more mature pattern of breathing, with occasional sighs, in the first few months of life.
It's also not unusual for a baby's hands and feet to be mildly bluish. But if his lips, tongue, whole face, or the trunk of his body turns dark or distinctly blue, it's a sign that he may be in danger.
If you suspect that your baby has stopped breathing or simply want to reassure yourself, lightly touch or rouse him to see whether he responds. If he doesn't, rub his back vigorously or slap his feet. If he still doesn't respond, he may be experiencing something called apnea. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
If this happens and you know how to administer infant CPR, begin emergency treatment right away and have someone else call for emergency help. If you're alone with your baby, administer CPR for two minutes, then call for help and resume CPR until help arrives or your baby starts breathing again.
About 1 percent of babies have what is called an apparent life-threatening event (ALTE). These episodes can be frightening to parents and need prompt medical attention. Call 911 right away if your baby suddenly shows some or all of the following symptoms during sleep:
- stops breathing for 20 seconds or more
- becomes limp or rigid
- turns blue or pale, or sometimes red
- chokes or gags and becomes unresponsive
Children who have an ALTE will need to undergo tests to figure out the cause of these symptoms. In some cases of ALTE, a doctor will recommend using an apnea monitor at home for a while to keep track of your baby's breathing and heart rate. (These monitors can be useful with babies who have had an ALTE, but don't rely on one to prevent SIDS. SIDS is different than an ALTE.)