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What is an Infant Ventilator?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An infant ventilator is a piece of medical equipment used with babies who have difficulty breathing on their own. The ventilator provides air to the baby through a tube inserted into the trachea, with adjustable settings to allow care providers to control how much air is delivered and how much pressure is involved. Infant ventilators can commonly be seen in the intensive care environment and they may be used in other settings as well. As the baby improves, the care team can start weaning the infant off the ventilator, allowing the baby to breathe independently.

A ventilator will be recommended for a baby who is not breathing or who has extreme difficulty breathing. Premature infants may need to spend time on an infant ventilator due to the fact that their lungs are not fully formed. The settings on the ventilator are determined on the basis of a number of factors including the baby's size and age, with special care being taken to minimize the risk of lung damage, a potential complication of using an infant ventilator.

Many ventilators offer several different modes, some of which provide opportunities for a baby to breathe at least partially unassisted. These modes can be used during the ventilator weaning process to provide the baby with support while also encouraging the baby's lungs to start functioning on their own. The ventilator modes are all designed with concerns about infant lung development in mind to make the potential for ventilator complications less likely.

Being on an infant ventilator for a long time can put a baby at risk of pneumonia and may damage the delicate structures inside the lung. Ventilator use is carefully considered before it is recommended and the infant is monitored closely while on the device so corrective steps can be taken if problems appear to be developing. A respiratory therapist can be involved in the process of determining appropriate ventilator settings and monitoring the infant's health.

While on an infant ventilator, an infant may be provided with a number of medical interventions to address the underlying medical issues that led to the need for a ventilator. Regular assessments are conducted to gauge the level of improvement in the infant. Parents with a severely ill infant in the hospital should remember that setbacks can occur, and projected dates for taking the baby off the ventilator or other milestones may be pushed back if there are concerns about the baby's ability to thrive.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SZapper — On Aug 22, 2011

@Monika - I can't imagine anyone refusing an infant ventilator because of pneumonia either. However, it is a serious risk.

A good friend of mine had a premature baby. He had to be put on a ventilator in order to save his life! However, he stayed on the ventilator for so long that he developed pneumonia. It almost killed him! It was definitely a stressful time for the family, but I guess if it weren't for the ventilator the baby wouldn't have even lived long enough to develop pneumonia!

By Monika — On Aug 22, 2011

I had no idea there were any risks involved in putting a baby on a ventilator! The risk of pneumonia sounds really scary. I've had pneumonia as an adult and I know it can be pretty serious-especially in babies.

I think the benefits outweigh the risks in this case though. Infant ventilators save lives and I can't imagine anyone refusing to put their infant on one for fear of pneumonia.

By poppyseed — On Aug 21, 2011

I had a sister who was born prematurely, and as a result had to be put on a medical ventilator. After a time, we were allowed to see her, but she was just so pitiful.

She was tiny, and all of these tubes seemed to be running out from everywhere. It is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen in my life, to be honest.

You know what, though. While seeing her on a ventilator was both frightening and sad, losing her at birth would have been even worse.

Now she is in college and is just as healthy as anybody. We are so thankful for the opportunity that medical science and the good Lord allowed her!

By nanny3 — On Aug 21, 2011

@umbra21 – You know, you are absolutely correct. These poor little ones need love and care just like those who were lucky enough to be born healthy.

I have actually read somewhere or other that if an infant is left to itself without touch – even if they are fed and nourished otherwise – they can still die from lack of nurturing.

I believe this might have been some of the harsh studies performed during Hitler’s time or some such, but it just points out exactly how important it is for little ones to receive human touch. I imagine this might be even more crucial for children on ventilators.

As long as you are careful when you touch your child, it will not only be quite safe but also very beneficial to them. I daresay it would also be beneficial to you as the parent as well.

By umbra21 — On Aug 21, 2011

If your baby has to be put on a ventilator, don't be afraid to ask if you can still stroke them or hold them as much as possible.

I think sometimes people feel intimidated by all the equipment and are worried that they might harm their baby, who already looks so vulnerable.

But, you know, they often do much better when they have human contact.

My little sister had to be put on a ventilator for a while after she was born, although she didn't need it for long. My mother sat with her and kept a hand on her for hours, so that she knew someone cared.

I think that did as much as the ventilation in helping my sister to get better.

By croydon — On Aug 20, 2011

Doctors are innovating to make smaller and smaller neonatal ventilation for infants is one of the reasons premature babies can live at younger and younger ages.

Unfortunately, and sadly, a high percentage of babies who are born prematurely suffer from developmental disorders later in life. Hopefully, as doctors continue to improve the care they give these tiny miracles, the odds will continue to improve that they will live happy and healthy lives.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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