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Apnea of Prematurity Follow-up

  • Author: Dharmendra J Nimavat, MD, FAAP; Chief Editor: Ted Rosenkrantz, MD  more...
Updated: May 29, 2014

Further Outpatient Care

Home monitoring

Various agencies and organizations have stated that home monitoring cannot prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death or cot death, in preterm infants who have apnea of prematurity during their hospitalization.[9]

Indications for home monitoring

Home monitoring may be indicated in the situations described below.

  • Historical evidence suggests the occurrence of clinically significant apnea or an apparent life-threatening event (ALTE).
  • Recording monitoring or multichannel evaluation documents apnea.
  • The patient has gastroesophageal reflux (GER) with apnea.
  • A sibling or twin of the patient died from SIDS or another postneonatal cause of death (see Special Concerns).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus conference recommends monitoring for the siblings of infants with SIDS, but only after 2 SIDS-related deaths occur in a family. Physicians often begin monitoring after one sibling dies from SIDS; this practice may be related to a fear of litigation should another child in the family die from SIDS. Siblings of patients who died from SIDS are routinely monitored until one month past the patient's age at death.

Monitoring is not indicated to prevent SIDS in infants older than one year, though proponents believe that such monitoring reduces anxiety in the parents of high-risk infants. Opponents of monitoring cite a lack of evidence to show that monitoring reduces the rate of SIDS. They argue that monitors intrude on the family's life and that they are poorly tolerated by the family.[9]

Types of monitors

Several types of cardiorespiratory monitors are available for home use in the United States. The most common type combines impedance pneumography with an assessment of the patient's mean heart rate. The most notable drawback of impedance monitors is their inability to detect obstructive apnea. Newer monitors can minimize false alarms caused by motion artifact.

Standard home monitors detect respiratory signals and heart rates. Electrodes are placed directly on the infant's chest or inside an adjustable belt secured around his or her chest.

Monitoring units should be capable of recording cardiac and respiratory data because this information can help the physician in evaluating the need to stop medication or monitoring. These devices also record compliance with monitor use. The event recorder contains a computer chip that continuously records respiratory and cardiac signals. Normal signals are erased, but any event that deviates from preset parameters activates the monitor to save records of that event, as well as data 15-75 before and 15-75 seconds it. Additional channels are available to record pulse oximetry readings, nasal airflow, and body position (eg, prone vs supine). The records are downloaded within 24 hours after a parent reports an event or after excessive alarms occur.

Many units now have computer modems that instantly transmit data to the physician's office for evaluation. These easily installed devices are especially useful for families who have had problems with events or alarms.

Some devices, such as pulse oximeters, piezo belts, and pressure capsules, have been impractical to use or have had limited applications. Newer technologies and software programs may soon make such oximeters and similar devices more practical than they once were.

All monitoring devices are associated with false alarms, which are alerts without in the absent of a true cardiorespiratory event. False alarms worry parents. If they happen often, they may discourage use of the monitor. Excessive false alarms can usually be minimized by adjusting the placement of the electrodes and by educating the parents.

Details of monitoring depend on the frequency of events observed during neonatal hospitalization, the size and stability of the infant at the time of discharge, and the degree of parental anxiety.

Follow-up of home monitoring and patient education

Careful follow-up is needed with all cases of home monitoring in prematurely born neonates. Physicians who have limited experience with home monitoring or who cannot interpret the downloaded recordings should seek assistance from a center or program with expertise in these areas.

The most important issue with monitoring is that Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) instructors should educate parents, guardians, and other caregivers about neonatal resuscitation by using a mannequin before their child is discharged from the NICU.

Parents should also be educated about prenatal and postnatal factors associated with an increased risk of SIDS, namely, the following:[132, 25]

  • Prenatal and postnatal tobacco use
  • Opiate abuse during pregnancy
  • Baby's prone sleeping position
  • Pacifier use
  • Use of soft bedding
  • Shared sleeping with children and adults
  • Illnesses in infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Genetic factors

Parents must also be aware that postural skull deformities have occurred after the AAP offered positioning recommendations in its Back to Sleep campaign.[133] Prematurely born infants are probably at increased risk. Ways to avoid or minimize skull deformities should be discussed with parents.

Parents of infants with home monitors must have a clearly designated person who they can contact on a regular basis and during emergencies. Many programs or centers provide 24-hour assistance for families of children with home monitors.

The mean duration of home monitoring for prematurely born neonates is often more than 6 weeks. Extended monitoring is reserved for infants whose recordings show notable cardiorespiratory abnormalities. Monitoring beyond age 1 year is uncommon. Most often, children who require such monitoring have other conditions that require the use of additional technology. An example is an infant with bronchopulmonary dysplasia who requires mechanical ventilation at home.

For infants who require therapy with a methylxanthine, drug therapy is typically stopped after 8 weeks without true events, but monitoring is continued for an additional 4 weeks.[134, 135] If no events are noted in this period, monitoring can be discontinued. These recommendations regarding discontinuing methylxanthines or home monitoring are not based on data from controlled studies; these investigations are badly needed.


Further Inpatient Care

Apnea-free interval before discharge

Most neonatologists agree that babies should be apnea-free for 2-10 days before discharge. However, the interval between the last apneic event and a safe time for discharge is not clearly established. The minimum apnea-free period is debated among clinicians. Darnall et al concluded that otherwise healthy preterm neonates continue to have periods of apnea separated by as many as 8 days before the last episode of apnea before discharge.[130] Infants with long intervals between apneic event often have risk factors other than apnea of prematurity (AOP).

Home monitoring

Home monitoring after discharge is necessary for infants whose apneic episodes continue despite the administration of methylxanthine. Infants undergoing methylxanthine therapy rarely are sent home without a monitor because apnea may recur after they outgrow their therapeutic level. Without a monitor, caregivers may not know when apnea reappears.

Some families cannot manage monitoring in the home. In these cases, the administration of caffeine may be the only possible therapy. Infants in this situation need frequent follow-up visits, and they should be readmitted for further evaluation when their blood levels approach the subtherapeutic range.


Premature infants often have apnea and bradycardia events following the first series of immunizations, and neonatologists caring for premature infants prefer to give immunization while the child remains in the NICU, if the infant is near discharge. These events are less likely to recur during subsequent immunizations; however, prospective studies are required in this regard.[131]



Infants born prematurely are at increased risk for apnea and bradycardia after undergoing general anesthesia or sedation with ketamine, regardless of their history of apnea. Because of this increased risk, defer elective surgery, if possible, until approximately 52-60 weeks after conception to allow the infant's respiratory control mechanism to mature.



Regarding the natural history of apnea in infants born prematurely, the frequencies of all types of apnea gradually decreases during the first months of postnatal life. However, in some infants, apnea may persist until the age of 44 weeks after conception.


Patient Education

Family members and others involved in the care of an infant with apnea of prematurity should be well trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Many of the pitfalls of home monitoring can be avoided by providing 24-hour telephone access (the ideal level of service) to a designated physician or nurse who is involved in the infant's care. In addition to this access, families should receive frequent, regularly scheduled telephone calls from healthcare providers, as well as home visits by a nurse or respiratory technician or follow-up appointments in a clinic familiar with this field of care.

For excellent patient education resources, visit eMedicineHealth's Children's Health Center. Also, see eMedicineHealth's patient education article Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Dharmendra J Nimavat, MD, FAAP Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Dharmendra J Nimavat, MD, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Michael P Sherman, MD, FAAP Professor, Department of Child Health, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine; Neonatologist, Women’s and Children’s Hospital; Professor Emeritus, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine

Michael P Sherman, MD, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, American Thoracic Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, European Society for Paediatric Research, Western Society for Pediatric Research, Perinatal Research Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Rene L Santin, MD 

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Arun K Pramanik, MD, MBBS Professor of Pediatrics, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center

Arun K Pramanik, MD, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Thoracic Society, National Perinatal Association, Southern Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Ted Rosenkrantz, MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

Ted Rosenkrantz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, Eastern Society for Pediatric Research, American Medical Association, Connecticut State Medical Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Rachel Porat, MD Director, Neonatal Apnea Monitoring Program, Assistant Director, Division of Neonatology, Albert Einstein Medical Center; Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Thomas Jefferson University

Rachel Porat, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Central apnea is defined as the cessation of both airflow and respiratory effort. ECG = electrocardiogram; HR = heart rate; THO = thoracic impedance; FLOW = air flow; ACT = ; SpO2 = peripheral oxygen saturation; STAGE = sleep stage.
Polysomnogram. Mixed apnea contains elements of both central and obstructive apnea. ECG = electrocardiogram; HR = heart rate (bpm); THO = thoracic movement; FLOW = flow the from nose and mouth; ACT = gross body movement; SpO2 = peripheral oxygen saturation (%); STAGE = sleep stage, where AT = active sleep.
Polysomnogram. Periodic breathing is defined as periods of regular respiration for as long as 20 seconds followed by apneic periods no longer than 10 seconds that occur at least 3 times in succession. ECG = electrocardiogram; HR = heart rate (bpm); THO = thoracic movement; FLOW = flow the from nose and mouth; ACT = gross body movement.
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