Respiration, as judged by gas exchange and pulmonary function, is improved in preterm infants kept in the prone rather than the supine position. The influence of position on the breathing pattern as documented by the pneumogram was studied in 14 stable preterm infants with recent clinical apnoea. Ten of the infants had oximetry and nasal flow studies simultaneously with the impedance pneumogram. Each infant had consecutive nocturnal pneumograms, one in the prone, one in the supine position. The infants were kept for more than six hours in the assigned position. A significant increase in apnoea density and in periodic breathing was found in the supine v the prone position (mean (SE) 4.5 (0.7)% v 2.5 (0.5)%, and 13.6 (3.2)% v 7.7 (2.2)%, respectively). There was no positional difference in the incidence of bradycardia and prolonged apnoea. The examination of obstructive apnoea, mixed apnoea, and cyanotic spells did not reveal a consistent disparity between the two positions. These findings indicate an increase in central apnoea in preterm infants kept predominantly in the supine position. Possible relations of positional changes to lung mechanics are discussed. When evaluating pneumograms, attention must be given to the position in which they were performed.
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