What is transient tachypnea?

The amniotic fluid contained in the amniotic sac is very important for your developing baby. This fluid surrounds your unborn baby in the womb and acts as a cushion to protect the baby from injury.

It also keeps the temperature stable and is needed for the development of healthy bones and lungs. In the womb, the baby’s lungs are filled with 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 from their lungs. 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 (TTN).

This condition typically causes a fast breathing rate (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 lung in newborns
  • retained fetal lung fluid
  • prolonged transition

What are the symptoms of transient tachypnea?

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 (cyanosis)
  • the appearance of the chest sinking under the ribcage with each breath (also called retractions)

What causes transient tachypnea?

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 to a mother who has diabetes
  • rapid vaginal delivery
  • delayed cord clamping

Male babies and those born at a larger birth weight are also more likely to develop this condition.

How is transient tachypnea diagnosed?

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 also examines your baby.

Tests may also be needed to confirm the diagnosis. These tests might include:

  • complete blood count (CBC) and blood culture to see if your baby has an infection, such as pneumonia
  • blood gas test to check your baby’s blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels
  • chest X-rays to study the lungs for causes of respiratory distress
  • pulse oximetry monitoring, in which an oxygen sensor is attached to your baby’s foot, allowing the doctor to monitor the baby’s oxygen levels

If there are no other causes for your baby’s symptoms, your doctor may make a diagnosis of transient tachypnea.

How is transient tachypnea treated?

If your baby has the symptoms of transient tachypnea, they’ll be given supplemental oxygen (if needed) to keep blood oxygen levels stable. This oxygen is typically delivered through a tube that’s placed around your baby’s head and in their nose (via a nasal cannula).

Most babies 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 a vein) or via 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, usually when other conditions are present besides TTN, 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.

What’s the outlook for a newborn with transient tachypnea?

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.

How can transient tachypnea be prevented?

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