Sign In
Cook Children's
Patient Portal

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

What is it?

One of the most common and immediate problems facing premature infants is difficulty breathing. Although there are many causes of breathing difficulties in premature babies, the most common is called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS).

What causes it?

In RDS, a baby's immature lungs don't produce enough of an important substance called surfactant. Surfactant allows the inner surface of the lungs to expand properly when the infant goes from the womb to breathing air after birth.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors suspect RDS in any premature baby and in full-term infants who are breathing particularly hard and fast or who need extra oxygen. A chest X-ray can confirm the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

When premature delivery can't be stopped, most pregnant women can be given a steroid medicine just before delivery to help prevent RDS. If needed, artificial surfactant can be given to a newborn through a breathing tube immediately after birth and several times later. Many premature babies who lack surfactant will require a breathing machine, or ventilator, for a while, but the use of artificial surfactant has greatly decreased the amount of time they spend on the ventilator.

How long will my baby be in the NICU?

Babies with serious cases usually require many days or weeks in the unit.

We're here to help.

If you are interested in scheduling a tour of our NICU, please call 682-885-4375. You can find information on how to refer a patient or other NICU contact information here.