Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome is a lung disorder occurring in newborns, primarily those born prematurely. They are not able to breathe properly, causing low blood/oxygen levels. This condition can be fatal.
What Causes Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
Babies born six weeks or more before their due date are most at risk of developing the syndrome because their lungs are immature. Lungs are normally coated with a substance called surfactant. Surfactant is a fluid that helps keep the lungs inflated. Without it, they would collapse.
As surfactant isn’t formed until the last few weeks of pregnancy, a large number of premature babies experience breathing difficulties. Approximately ten premature babies in every 100 suffer from RDS. Sometimes neonatal RDS is caused by initial breathing problems after birth which then damages the lungs.
It can also be caused by therapeutic measures intended to help the baby, such as 100% oxygen which can scar the lungs, medications and even vaccines.
A study published in Acta Paediatrica found that if premature babies were vaccinated at less than 70 days old they had a 20% chance of developing major breathing and heart complications, including apnoea, bradycardia or desaturations. They concluded:
‘Age at vaccination of 70 days or less was significantly associated with increased risk (p<0.01). Of 27 babies vaccinated at 70 days or less, 9 (33.3%) developed major events compared with none when vaccinated over 70 d.’
Very rarely, a full-term baby may get neonatal RDS because of a genetic fault preventing him from making surfactant.
If you are giving birth by Caesarean section before term, your baby is at greater risk of developing RDS. Babies born surgically have a higher rate of breathing difficulties because mucus is not expelled from their chest during vaginal birth.
Symptoms of RDS are:
• Grunting sounds
• Shallow and fast breathing
• Drawing in of the ribs on each breath
• Apnea (pauses in breathing)
• Collapsed lungs and/or bleeding into the lungs
• Heart problems caused by lack of oxygen
• Sepsis – a blood infection affecting the whole body