The amniotic fluid contained in the amniotic sac is very important for your developing baby. This fluid surrounds the unborn baby in the womb and acts as a cushion to protect the baby from injury. It also keeps their temperature stable and is needed to develop healthy bones and lungs. In the womb, the baby is constantly inhaling and exhaling the fluid. This is normal and healthy.
During labor, your baby’s body releases chemicals to help their lungs push out the fluid. The pressure of the birth canal on your baby’s chest also releases fluid. After birth, your baby’s cough, as well as air filling their lungs, should expel the remaining amniotic fluid.
However, sometimes the fluid doesn’t leave the lungs as quickly and completely as it should. This excess fluid in the lungs can make it difficult for the baby’s lungs to function properly. This condition is known as transient tachypnea of the newborn.
This condition typically causes a fast breathing rate, or tachypnea, for the infant. While the symptoms may be distressing, they’re typically not life-threatening. They usually disappear within one to three days after birth.
Other names for transient tachypnea include:
- wet lungs-newborns
- retained fetal lung fluid
- transient respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
- prolonged transition
The symptoms of transient tachypnea are different for each newborn. Common symptoms of this condition include:
- rapid breathing, which means over 60 breaths per minute
- labored breathing, including grunting and moaning
- nostril flaring
- bluish skin, or cyanosis
- the appearance of the chest sinking under the ribcage with each breath, or retractions
The exact cause of transient tachypnea in newborns isn’t always known. The condition may be caused by the inability of the newborn’s lungs to expel or absorb amniotic fluid during and following delivery.
Babies born by cesarean delivery are more likely to develop this condition. A cesarean delivery doesn’t allow the fluid to be squeezed out of the baby’s lungs, which commonly occurs in the birth canal during vaginal delivery.
Other factors that may contribute to the development of transient tachypnea include:
- being born before 38 weeks gestation
- being born to a mother who has diabetes
- rapid vaginal delivery
- delayed cord clamping
Male babies and those born of a larger birth weight are also more likely to develop this condition.
The symptoms of transient tachypnea can be associated with other medical conditions newborns can have. This may make it difficult for your doctor to diagnose this condition. Your doctor will review your pregnancy, labor, and complications to make a diagnosis. Your doctor will also examine your baby. Tests may also be needed to confirm the diagnosis. These tests might include:
- a complete blood count (CBC) and blood culture to see if your baby has an infection, such as pneumonia
- a blood gas test to check your baby’s blood oxygen levels
- chest X-rays to study the lungs for causes of respiratory distress
- a pulse oximetry monitoring, in which an oxygen sensor is attached to your baby’s foot, allowing the doctor to monitor their lung function
If there are no other causes for your baby’s symptoms, your doctor may make a diagnosis of transient tachypnea.
If your baby has the symptoms of transient tachypnea, they’ll be given supplemental oxygen to keep blood oxygen levels stable. This oxygen will typically be delivered through a tube that’s placed around your baby’s head and in their nose, or nasal cannula. Most babies will respond to treatment within 12 to 24 hours. During this period, the amount of supplemental oxygen needed by your baby should decrease.
Newborns with breathing difficulties may not feed properly. If this occurs, your doctor will also provide fluids and nutrients to your baby intravenously (through their vein) or through a tube through their nose into their stomach. Because transient tachypnea can be difficult to distinguish from an infection, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics. If test results show there’s no infection, these antibiotics will be stopped.
In rare cases, breathing difficulties may make it necessary to use a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that can help your baby breathe until they’re able to breathe independently.
The symptoms of transient tachypnea typically resolve within one to three days following birth. In some cases, the symptoms may last up to a week. Once the symptoms resolve, newborns don’t usually have any additional health problems or need special follow-up care.
There’s no way to definitively prevent transient tachypnea. However, you can increase your chances of giving birth to a healthy baby by:
- eating a healthy diet during pregnancy, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- seeing your doctor regularly for prenatal checkups
- quitting smoking
- not consuming alcohol or drugs that aren’t prescribed by your doctor