What Is Neonatal Intubation?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 20 February 2020
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Neonatal intubation refers to a medical technique that helps a newborn baby to breathe. It involves inserting a tube into the baby's airway through which air can be pumped. This may or may not require an incision to be made in the baby's throat to get access to the airway. Premature babies, and others with problems breathing on their own may necessitate neonatal intubation.

Intubation is performed on a patient if the person is unable to breathe alone properly. This is also the case for babies, who may have immature or delicate lungs. The technique basically pumps air into the body, instead of relying on the lungs to pull in and push out air. Extra oxygen can be added to the pressurized air to help oxygenate the baby more than with regular air.

Doctors use a variety of intubation methods to get the air into the patient's lungs. All involve a long, thin tube which is inserted into the airways and lungs to transport the air. This tube can be inserted into the baby's nose, into the baby's mouth or directly into the airway, bypassing the mouth and nose altogether. The surgical type of neonatal intubation involves a small incision into the baby's throat, so that the tube can be placed into the airway. This type is advantageous over the mouth and nose insertion methods, if the baby has obstructions in those areas, or if he or she produces a lot of mucus.


Newborn babies are small and have delicate anatomies, and so insertion of a tube into the airway tends to be a more complicated process than inserting a tube into an adult. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that neonatal intubation is generally an emergency procedure, which has to be performed within about 30 seconds. Training models are available on the market to help doctors practice this skill. As a safety measure if the neonatal intubation is not successful, an alternative option on standby is to give the baby air through a mask over the mouth and nose until the intubation can be performed properly.

Possible risks of a neonatal intubation include damage to areas of the body from the tube, or insertion of the tube into the wrong area, therefore affecting the oxygen getting into the body. Tubes may also become blocked, with blood or mucus, or may fall out of place. Generally, though, a doctor inserting a breathing tube into a baby has to perform safety checks once the tube is inside, and also check that sufficient oxygen is getting to the baby.


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