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Respitatory Support in the NICU

Nasal Cannulas, CPAP, and Ventilators


Updated September 27, 2012

Respitatory Support in the NICU
Photo courtesy of Christina Bethea
In the NICU, premature babies often need help to breathe or to maintain good oxygen saturation. Many different types of respiratory support are available for babies who need different levels of help.

Nasal Cannula: One of the least invasive forms of respiratory support, a nasal cannula is a thin plastic tube that delivers oxygen directly into the nostrils. With a nasal cannula the baby breathes on his or her own, but needs additional airflow to keep the lungs open or additional oxygen to maintain good oxygen saturations.

CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, is a type of respiratory support that blows a constant airflow into a baby's lungs in order to help keep the lungs inflated. The air pressure is higher than with a nasal cannula, but the baby is still breathing on his or her own.

Mechanical Ventilation: When a baby is mechanically ventilated using a ventilator, a tube is placed in his or her airway to deliver breaths directly into the lungs. With most ventilators the baby can still take his or her own breaths, but the ventilator will also breathe for the baby.

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