At birth, most babies are born with healthy hearts that receive the appropriate amount of oxygen for optimum health. However, some babies don't get enough oxygen at birth, which can potentially lead to health complications. Wondering what to do if your baby's oxygen levels are too low? Or wondering what oxygen level is too low for a baby? Keep reading to learn more about baby oxygen levels.
What Causes Low Oxygen at Birth?
It's been estimated that between 4-23% of babies will have insufficient oxygen at birth. There are a variety of factors that can cause low oxygen levels at birth, including:
1. Premature birth.
One of the most common reasons for low oxygen levels for babies is premature birth. Babies that are born before 37 weeks gestation are more likely to experience respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a condition in which the lungs are not fully developed and don't work properly. RDS can cause difficulty breathing and low oxygen levels.
2. Meconium aspiration syndrome.
Another common reason for low oxygen at birth is meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). This occurs when a baby inhales meconium, which is the first stool that a baby passes. Meconium is made up of amniotic fluid, mucus, skin cells, and other debris. Inhaling meconium can lead to respiratory distress and low oxygen levels.
3. Umbilical cord problems.
Another potential cause of low oxygen at birth is umbilical cord problems. If the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby's neck, it can cut off the oxygen supply and cause low oxygen levels. Additionally, if the umbilical cord is too long or too short, it can also cause problems with Baby’s oxygen supply.
Infection is another potential cause of low oxygen at birth. If the mother has an infection, it can be passed to the baby and cause respiratory distress and low oxygen levels.
5. Placental abruption.
Placental abruption is a rare but serious complication that can occur during pregnancy. It occurs when the placenta starts to separate from the uterine wall before delivery. This can cause oxygen deprivation and low oxygen levels.
6. Congenital heart defects.
Congenital heart defects are another potential cause of low oxygen at birth. These defects can cause problems with the way blood flows through the heart, which can lead to oxygen deprivation.
What are the Normal Oxygen Levels for a Baby?
The normal oxygen saturation level for a full-term, healthy baby is 95-100%. Preterm babies usually have lower oxygen saturation levels, which is to be expected given their immature lungs. However, even preterm babies should have oxygen saturation levels above 90%. So, what oxygen level is too low for a baby? If a baby has oxygen saturation levels below 90%, it is considered to be too low and may require treatment.
What are the Symptoms of Low Oxygen Levels in a Baby?
The symptoms of low oxygen levels in a baby will depend on the severity of the oxygen deprivation.
- Cyanosis. One of the most common symptoms of low oxygen levels is cyanosis, which is a bluish tint to the skin. This occurs because when the blood oxygen levels are low, the blood vessels constrict in an attempt to increase oxygenation. This can cause a bluish tint to the skin.
- Apnea. Apnea is another common symptom of low oxygen levels in a baby. Clinically, apnea means a pause in breathing for 20 seconds or longer. It can be caused by a variety of things, but in babies, it is often caused by respiratory distress.
- Bradycardia. Bradycardia is another symptom of low oxygen levels. Bradycardia is defined as having a heart rate that’s less than 60 beats per minute.
- Seizures. Seizures can be another symptom of low oxygen levels in a baby.
- Lethargy. Lethargy is another common symptom of low oxygen levels in babies. Lethargy is defined as a state of tiredness and lack of energy. It can be caused by a number of things, but it is often caused by oxygen deprivation.
What Happens if a Baby’s Oxygen Levels are Too Low?
If a baby's oxygen levels are too low, it can lead to a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body tissues and organs are not getting enough oxygen. Hypoxia can cause a variety of problems, including organ damage, brain damage, and death.
How Do You Test for Low Oxygen Levels in Babies?
If a baby has symptoms of low oxygen levels, the first thing the doctor will do is check their oxygen saturation level. The oxygen saturation level can be checked with a pulse oximeter— a small device that attaches to the finger and measures the oxygen saturation level.
Another way to check for low oxygen levels is to measure the arterial blood gas (ABG). The ABG is a test that measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
How Do You Treat Low Oxygen Levels in Babies?
The treatment for low oxygen levels will depend on the severity of the oxygen deprivation. If the oxygen saturation level is below 90%, doctors will generally start by giving a baby supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen can be given through a mask or nasal cannula.
If the baby's oxygen saturation levels are still low, the next step may be to give positive pressure ventilation. Positive pressure ventilation is a type of mechanical ventilation that helps to push air into the lungs.
In some cases, the doctor may also give medications to help improve the oxygenation of the blood.
Should I Continue to Monitor My Baby’s Oxygen Levels?
If your baby has been diagnosed with low oxygen levels, it’s important to continue to monitor their oxygen saturation levels. It’s also important to see your doctor for follow-up appointments. The doctor will likely do another ABG test to check the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
Even if your baby hasn't been diagnosed with oxygen levels, tracking oxygen levels can provide a parent or caregiver with peace of mind.