Oxygen Therapy

Offering a Breath of Life

One of our top priorities in the NICU is ensuring that your baby is breathing well. If your baby has trouble breathing on his or her own, we have many ways to assist.

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Determining Necessity of Oxygen Therapy

The pulse oximeter is one of many standard monitoring tools used in the NICU. This red light attaches to your baby's hand or foot and reads the saturation of oxygen in the blood. These readings will determine if your baby needs oxygen therapy. When breathing room air, a healthy baby should have an oxygen saturation level greater than 92%.

Oxygen Delivery

If oxygen is necessary, it can be provided a variety of ways.

  • Oxygen Hood - This method is used for babies who can breathe on their own, but still need extra oxygen. It is a clear plastic dome that fits over the baby's head and delivers warm, humidified oxygen. An oxygen analyzer measures the amount of oxygen delivered into the hood.
  • Nasal Cannula - This plastic tubing has small prongs that rest just inside the baby's nose where they offer oxygen directly into the nose. The tubing is connected to a unit called an oxygen blender that mixes the oxygen to the desired amount. A flowmeter controls oxygen flow to less than 2 liters per minute.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) - If your baby cannot keep the lungs expanded, CPAP will deliver pressurized air and keep the lungs expanded. This CPAP treatment can be delivered several ways:
    • Nasal Prongs - These small tubes are placed snugly inside the baby's nose.
    • Binasal Airways - These long plastic tubes are placed through the baby's nose to the back of the throat.
    • CPAP Mask - This mask fits snugly over the baby's nose.
    • Endotracheal Tube - This tiny, plastic tube is referred to as an ET tube. It is inserted into the baby's mouth, past the vocal cords, and down into the trachea (windpipe). The process of inserting the ET tube is known as intubation.

Use of Ventilators

If your baby experiences frequent spells of apnea (periods when breathing stops temporarily) or is too weak to breathe well unassisted, the baby will be intubated and placed on a ventilator that:

  • Breathes for the baby until the infant can breathe well without assistance.
  • Delivers a measured amount of oxygen directly to the baby's lungs.
  • Provides a constant pressure in the lungs to keep them expanded. This is called PEEP (Positive End-Expiratory Pressure).
  • Breathes for the baby at a set rate per minute.
  • Delivers each breath at a set pressure, called PIP (Positive Inspiratory Pressure).

Additional Breathing Assistance

  • Percussion - Babies who have breathing problems often cannot cough up the mucus in their lungs. We can help move these secretions by gently thumping on their chest with our fingers or a using a small padded vibrator.
  • Suctioning - Using a soft, plastic tube hooked to a suction machine, we can remove mucus from your baby's endotracheal tube, mouth and nose.
  • Bronchodilators - The doctor may prescribe these drugs to open the bronchial tubes and make it easier for your baby to breathe. They can be administered by:
    • Nebulizer - A machine turns the medication into a fine mist that can be breathed into the lungs.
    • Metered Dose Inhaler - This device blows particles of medication into the lungs.