Secondary Apnea

Last Updated: June 30, 2018

Definition - What does Secondary Apnea mean?

Secondary apnea is the second and more serious stage of lack of natural breathing experienced by infants during or just before delivery. If an infant asphyxiates the infant can then pass through the primary apnea stage and into secondary apnea where the infant requires artificial ventilation to start breathing again and will not respond to simple stimulation measures such as slapping of feet. Medical professionals treat any case of apnea at birth as the more serious secondary apnea because the only visible signs to differentiate the two can happen while the infant is still hidden from view in the womb.

WorkplaceTesting explains Secondary Apnea

Secondary apnea is the second and more lethal stage of apnea at birth wherein the infant cannot breathe naturally because it is asphyxiated during or just before delivery.


In secondary apnea, the infant stops breathing after it first gasps for air and its blood pressure falls. Stimulation will not work to restore breathing at this point and artificial ventilation is necessary.


It is difficult to tell if an infant is in primary or secondary apnea because the visual signs can happen before the infant exits the birth canal. Because of this, medical professionals therefore assume any apnea at birth as secondary apnea and provide artificial respiration immediately instead of risking precious time with milder treatments for primary apnea.

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