Since the first breath in the newborn has spread the lungs, the alveoli are continuously opened by a chemical substance called surfactant. However, in some very small premature babies and very large newborn babies of diabetic mothers, alveoli begin to close again several hours after birth due to lack of surfactant. This causes pulmonary syndrome – or breathing problems – in newborns.
A few hours after the birth, a newborn begins to breath harder and faster. When the air is inhaled, the chest is shrinking instead of expanding, and the gurgling sound can be heard when the air is exhaled.
If the (premature) birth is sooner, the greater is the possibility of pulmonary syndrome. It is very common in newborns who weight less than 1.5 kg at birth, and quite often in abnormally large newborns of diabetic mothers (see diabetes in pregnancy).
In the past, decrease in oxygen intake often ended with permanent brain or lung damage, and even death. Today, dangers are reduced because this disorder can be predicted in many cases during pregnancy, and maternity hospitals are equipped with all tools for intensive care after childbirth.
If the doctor suspect that birth could be significantly premature, he will measure the amount of surfactant in baby’s lungs by taking a sample of water (fluid in which the fetus in the womb is located). If the baby lacks surfactant, the pregnant woman will receive an injection of this substance. (This injection is not given if the childbirth started because it takes effect only after 24 hours.) According to the latest treatment method, a newborn is given artificial surfactant after birth.
A newborn who has pulmonary syndrome, or is healthy but there is a chance that the syndrome will develop, needs to be treated in the intensive care unit for newborns. There, the child will receive artificial respiration with maintaining lung ventilation, and the value of oxygen, carbon dioxide and chemical substances in the blood will be monitored attentively. Finally, the child will start reacting with the formation of a sufficient amount of surfactant, and the treatment may be discontinued. It would be ideal that any mother, who thinks that she will give birth to a child with pulmonary syndrome, gives birth in a hospital with intensive nursing care. But, in reality, a child is born somewhere else and then transported (in a specially equipped ambulance car) to such a hospital. If the child did not suffer from strong anoxia (lack of oxygen), the prospects for normal physical and mental development are excellent.