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What is an Apnea Monitor Used For?

When infants are discharged from the hospital with slight irregularities in heart rate or pauses in breathing, they are often sent home with what is known as an apnea monitor. An apnea monitor is a device that is attached to your child, either through electrodes or via a belt which straps across the chest.

The device is connected to an alarm that will go off if the infant's breathing stops, or if its heart rate becomes too fast or too slow. This will help keep parents alert to any potential dangers and signal them to check on the baby.

Generally speaking, apnea monitors are most commonly subscribed for infants who have either bradycardia or apneas. Bradycardia is when the baby’s heart rate drops below a recommended or normal level, while an apnea is a pause or cessation in breathing. 

Apnea is a quite common problem in premature infants, and can lead to lower oxygen saturation levels in the blood, which in turn can cause developmental problems and other serious consequences if it drops to too low of a level. Still, infants are never sent home if either of these two problems is of a more serious nature. 

apnea monitorIn those cases, the infant will be kept in the hospital in a special infant care unit and be treated with caffeine or other medications which are designed to stimulate the infant’s respiratory system. 

The medical staff will also continually monitor the baby’s heart rate and breathing until such a time when the problems have either gone away completely or are deemed minor. 

When it is finally determined that the infant can sufficiently breathe on their own, he or she is allowed to go home, although sometimes only with an apnea monitor just to be safe.

When it is determined that an infant is otherwise ready to go home, but still shows signs of being apneic or bradycardic, then doctors usually make the choice to order an apnea monitor from a vendor (often a home nursing or care company), which will then be delivered to the hospital before the baby is allowed to be discharged. 


When this happens, the home care company or vendor will give instructions to the parents on how exactly to use the monitor. This includes proper placement of the electrodes or belt, as well as how to respond to alarms and what the different types of alarms mean. Most home monitors have three separate alarms: one for rapid heart rate, one for slowed heart rate, and one for apneas.


Some hospitals also require the parents to spend a night or even 24 hours with their baby in the hospital, so that they can get real experience with using the monitor and responding to the alarms while under the care and supervision of medical staff who can also answer any questions the parents might have. 

This practice is actually quite common with many premature births, as it also gives the parents the ability to learn more about exactly how to take care of the child when it finally arrives at home, including giving the infant medicine, feeding, diaper changing, and other vital tasks.

Using an Apnea Baby Monitor

apnea monitorGenerally speaking, the monitor is to be used almost all the time, with only a few exceptions. It is of course okay to remove the monitor when the baby is being given a bath or when being played with. However, anytime the baby isn’t being closely interacted with, the monitor should always be in place, especially because babies fall asleep so frequently. 

As for the length of time the monitor needs to be used, it's often hard to for the doctors to tell exactly how long the baby will need the monitor for. This is because the length of time is determined by how many alarms go off.

Once the frequency of the alarms goes drastically down or stops altogether, then the doctor will decide the monitor is no longer needed. Most babies outgrow the problems of apneas and bradycardia within a few months. 

Apnea Baby Monitor Usage Today

These monitors used to be used quite commonly, however their use is somewhat rare nowadays due to advances in medical technology and the fact that hospitals now rarely discharge infants with respiratory or heart problems. Another reason for their decreased usage is that many studies have shown that monitors do very little to prevent complications.

Problems Associated with Apnea Baby Monitors

apnea monitor10Despite their decrease in usage, some hospitals still determine that the infant requires the use of an apnea baby monitor. The parents often feel quite relieved and safe at first when using the monitor. 

However, after having a child connected to a monitor for some time, there are a few common complaints heard from parents about the monitor. 

One of the biggest problems with using these monitors is the high frequency of false alarms. Many parents are driven up the wall by constant false alarms, often due to abdominal breathing. Still, doctors recommend keeping track of every single alarm, just in case a pattern develops. 

Another common complaint is that the adhesive used for the electrodes or the belt itself can be quite damaging to the baby’s delicate skin, leaving dry skin, rashes, and general skin irritation. With the electrodes, this can be somewhat avoided by changing them as prescribed and putting them in a different location each time. 

While many parents feel more secure having their baby hooked up to a apnea baby monitor, they also tend to worry more about power outages, as the monitor relies on electricity to function. If the power does go out, then it will not be possible to monitor the baby’s heart and respiratory rates. 

Still, your hospital will most likely provide you with a letter that will notify officials of the fact that there is a special needs infant in your home, which will give you priority listing in case of any emergency.

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