Sleep apnea isn’t just for adults

Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

If your child snores as loudly as your grandfather, he could have sleep
apnea, a potentially dangerous condition in which breathing is
obstructed during sleep.

That was the first clue for Megan Harvey (name changed) who was worried her baby wasn’t sleeping properly. “He
kept waking up and crying so many times a night that I decided to watch
him sleep to see what was going on.” When she noticed that he stopped
breathing for several seconds, many times, she took him to the
pediatrician, who diagnosed him with sleep apnea. The solution? Surgery
to remove his adenoids, which were obstructing his breathing.

young infants, it’s quite rare, but sleep apnea in older infants – more
than 18 months – is actually quite common,” says Dr. Nina Shapiro,
Director of Pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat at the Mattel Children’s
Hospital of UCLA and the author of Take A Deep Breath: Clear the Air for the Health of Your Child.

“At least 10 to 15 percent of toddlers have some degree of blocked breathing during sleep, often leading to sleep apnea.”

can you tell if your child has it? “If you hear your child snore,
followed by silence, followed by a big gasp for air, that is most likely
a sign of sleep apnea,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Any irregular breathing
pattern where it is not the steady in and out rhythm may also be a sign.
In general, breathing at night, at all ages, should be silent.”

sleep apnea can result in minor consequences such as daytime fatigue,
irritability or lack of focus (seen more commonly in school-aged
children). It can also be associated with increased frequency of colds,
respiratory illnesses, sinus infections and stuffy or runny noses.
Severe consequences include breathing difficulties during the day due to
severely blocked air passages, asthma, and even heart and lung

If you think your child may have sleep apnea, experts
suggest that you check on her at different times of night to listen to
her breathing pattern and see if she is snoring. It is also a good idea
to video or audio record your child and bring it (and your child) to
your doctor’s office.

Possible treatments:

  • If the snoring is caused by nasal stuffiness, try nasal saline drops at bedtime and a room humidifier.
  • A visit with an allergist may be needed to see if the blockage is being caused by an environmental trigger.
  • For
    kids ages two to six, enlarged tonsils and adenoids may be the culprit.
    If your doctor suspects this, he may refer your child to an ear, nose
    and throat specialist, who may recommend surgery as the best option.

that Megan knows her son can breathe properly, she can breathe easy as
well. “I’m just glad I paid attention to the signs and didn’t assume
that everything was OK. Sometimes, it’s not.”

Do you need professional help?

you have a newborn who won’t sleep and you’re at your wit’s end, you
might want to call a certified doula for guidance. Robyn Berman, a DONA
International- certified birth and post-partum doula in Halifax, says
the two main issues first-time mothers have are breastfeeding concerns
and their infant’s sleep habits. Often, babies fall asleep at their
mother’s breast after feeding, then wake up as soon as they are put down
in their crib or bassinet.

Robyn, who is also a board member of
the Nova Scotia Doula Association, advises parents that until their baby
is around 16 weeks old, it’s OK to have a loose sleep routine. “Up
until then, how ever your baby can get sleep is fine – whether that’s on
the mother’s chest while sitting on the couch or in the stroller. After
16 weeks, you can start putting a more structured sleep routine in

When Robyn visits a client at her house, she makes sure
the environment is set up so there are several places where Mom can sit
comfortably with her sleeping baby, such as on the couch or in an
armchair, not just in a glider in the baby’s bedroom. “Your new baby’s
habitat is you – that’s where they’ll most likely get the most sleep.”
To find a certified doula in your area, visit

Originally published in ParentsCanada, May/June 2012

Related Articles

Made Possible With The Support Of Ontario Creates