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.