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Breathing Disorders


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Breathing disorders are some of the most common problems that affect premature newborns because their lungs aren’t developed enough to function normally.

When your baby is born with a breathing disorder, you want the very best care for your child. University of Miami Health System offers an experienced team that specializes in treating newborns with breathing disorders like respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

RDS affects newborns — most commonly infants who are born six weeks or more before their due date. It usually develops within 24 hours of birth. RDS is caused by a lack of a substance (surfactant) that coats the lungs and allows them to fill with air. Doctors usually begin treatment as soon as the baby is born and provide advanced care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Risk factors that can increase your baby's risk of developing RDS include:

  • Premature delivery (most common in babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Stress during delivery
  • Infection

If you have diabetes, it can also increase your baby’s risk of RDS.

Babies with RDS are at greater risk of developing BPD. BPD mostly affects babies born prematurely who need oxygen therapy (breathing assistance from a machine) for an extended period. Oxygen therapy can cause the lungs to swell and scar. Most babies recover without any long-term health problems, but the condition can be serious and requires care in the NICU.

Most infants with BPD:

  • Are born 10 weeks or more before their due date
  • Have breathing problems
  • Weigh less than 2 pounds at birth


Chest X-ray
Doctors use chest X-rays to check for signs of inflammation or infection in the lungs. An X-ray also looks for other problems, like a collapsed or under-developed lung.

Blood Tests
Blood tests tell your baby’s doctor if there’s enough oxygen in the blood and help them determine what’s causing the breathing problems.

An echocardiogram uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create a video of your baby’s heart. This test helps doctors rule out heart defects or pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the vessels in the lungs) as the cause of the breathing problems.


Oxygen Therapy
Doctors use a variety of methods to make sure your baby gets enough air in their lungs. Your baby may need:

  • Ventilation: Breathing equipment (respirator) that uses a breathing tube to deliver air. The machine does most or all of the breathing for your baby.
  • Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP): An NCPAP machine uses nasal prongs or a mask to deliver air at a constant pressure. This type of therapy is used for babies who can breathe on their own, but need assistance to help their lungs work properly.

Surfactant Replacement Therapy
Newborns with RDS don't have enough surfactant (substance that reduces surface tension) in their lungs. This therapy delivers surfactant through a breathing tube into your newborn's lungs until they’re able to make surfactant on their own.

Ongoing Monitoring
Your baby will be closely monitored while they continue to grow, develop, and heal – while in the NICU and once you return home. The neonatologist will regularly check their vital signs, the presence of fluid in the lungs, and other factors.

Why Choose UHealth?

History of excellence in critical care for babies. Our neonatologists see patients at Holtz Children’s Hospital, which has one of the largest, longest established Level III neonatal intensive care units in the United States. Our neonatal program has been ranked among the best NICUs in the United States by U.S. News & World Report for the past several years. When you trust us to care for your baby, you can be confident that you are putting your child’s care in highly qualified, compassionate hands. 

Recognized by our peers and patients for our excellence. Many of our pediatric doctors are recognized as America’s Top Doctors® by Castle Connolly — doctors who are nominated by their peers as being the very best in their communities. We have more Top Doctors than any other health system in South Florida. We’re affiliated with Holtz Children’s Hospital, one of the largest children’s hospitals in the southeastern United States. The hospital is ranked among the nation’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in diabetes and endocrinology, gastroenterology and GI surgery, and nephrology.

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