baby breathing difficulties

Your New Breathing Baby – First Breaths and Breathing Difficulties

It is only once they are born that the now breathing baby takes its first breaths of air. Inside the womb, the baby’s lungs are filled with liquid, amniotic fluid to be precise. A baby actually breathes in the fluid before it is born. This is good exercise and practice for when he will have to breathe in air after birth. It has been working its muscles for months. Its oxygen supply came through your own blood stream via the placenta and umbilical cord. So the breathing of fluid that the baby did prior to birth was solely to strengthen its own muscles when it could no longer rely on the mother’s blood to supply it with oxygen.


Baby’s Breaths


When the baby starts crying at birth its lungs expand and the air that comes into the lungs displaces the liquid that they were full of inside the womb. At this moment of birth the baby’s body is undergoing a rapid and extreme change. As it makes contact with the cooler air outside of the womb a reflex kicks in which triggers breathing. The air sacs inside the lungs open up for the first time. Any liquid that was inside them is either absorbed into the baby’s body and passed out in urine or coughed up. There is a release of prostaglandin hormones as the lungs of the baby increase in size and the pressure ratio changes. Prior to birth, inside the baby’s heart certain channels were closed off that prevented blood from the lungs reaching it. As she starts to take her first breaths these channels open up and allow the lungs instead of the placenta to supply the heart with oxygen. So what has happened now is that the source of oxygen has changed from the placenta to air. She now gets her oxygen direct rather than indirectly through the mother’s lungs.

baby breathing difficulties

Color Changes in Baby


At this time you will notice a change in the colour of your baby’s lips from blue to pink. She should turn pink all over within a few minutes after birth. The exception being her hands and possibly the feet which can remain blue for a while, not due to lack of oxygen reaching them but because the baby’s circulation is not fully revved up yet.


Helping the Baby to Breathe


The now breathing baby is taking in its oxygen for itself and soon will be breathing independently as she clears any passages used for breathing that were previously blocked during her time in the womb. When the baby is born with its head pointing down this is advantageous as it helps clear the nasal passages and other breathing pipes of fluid prior to birth. The baby still needs some help in clearing this fluid and often the midwife will put your baby face down immediately after birth on a towel to help clear the fluid and enable the baby to breathe better. If you feel strong enough you may want to take the baby and lay her down on your abdomen or over your thigh and give her a gentle back massage. Sometimes a suction is applied to either the mouth or nose if the fluid cannot be unblocked easily.


Some women say that natural childbirth is the best way to optimise breathing, baby and mother not being so groggy due to a drug free delivery. Some of the drugs that are used in delivery rooms have been known to have an affect on breathing, baby and mother both being affected to some degree.


Baby Breathing Difficulties


The newly breathing baby usually adapts fast to its new surroundings following birth, but a few do need extra assistance. Whilst you are in Labor, if the birth team think that there could be any reason to think that your baby is in distress, they will play even closer attention to her after birth. It is now commonplace for resuscitation equipment to be in place during all births, whether they be in hospital, or at home. Equipment is portable and midwives and nurses alike are fully trained in its use.


If you happen to have a home birth, and your baby is experiencing breathing difficulties, then it would be the normal procedure for your child to be taken to a special care baby unit by ambulance.


Having said that, most births result in a healthy breathing baby. The small minority that do experience breathing problems can usually be treated with good old fashioned techniques such as a spank on the bottom or a warming massage on the back following the extraction of any fluid in their mouths and noses. Sometimes this fluid can be sticky and difficult for the baby to cough up itself. This could be caused by dehydration during Labor so it is very important for the mother to keep drinking and sipping on water throughout the whole birthing process.


If your baby does experience more serious breathing problems then he will probably treated with the resuscitation equipment in the Labor room and also given oxygen either through a tube or with a face mask. If he needs a tube this will be placed into the larynx and trachea until he starts to breathe again for himself. Babies will only usually be taken to an SCBU (special care baby unit) if these problems persist and cannot be treated in the birth room. If needed the baby will be placed on a respirator until the breathing problems have been cured.


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