The Respiratory System in Babies

What is respiration?

Respiration is the act of breathing:

  • Inhaling (inspiration). Taking in oxygen.

  • Exhaling (expiration). Giving off carbon dioxide.

What makes up the respiratory system?

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases and consists of the:

  • Nose

  • Mouth (oral cavity)

  • Pharynx (throat)

  • Larynx (voice box)

  • Trachea (windpipe)

  • Bronchi

  • Lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • Nose

  • Nasal cavity

  • Ethmoidal air cells

  • Frontal sinuses

  • Maxillary sinus

  • Sphenoidal sinus

The lower respiratory tract includes the:

  • Larynx

  • Trachea

  • Lungs

  • Airways (bronchi and bronchioles)

  • Air sacs (alveoli)

What is the function of the lungs?

The lungs take in oxygen, which the body's cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the cells.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm).

The lungs are enveloped in a membrane called the pleura.

The lungs are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the following:

  • Heart and its large vessels

  • Trachea (windpipe)

  • Esophagus

  • Thymus

  • Lymph nodes

The right lung has three sections, called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. When you breathe, the air:

  • Enters the body through the nose or the mouth.

  • Travels down the throat through the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe).

  • Goes into the lungs through tubes called mainstem bronchi

    • One mainstem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung

    • In the lungs, the mainstem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi

    • Then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles

    • Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli

Breathing in babies

An important part of lung development in babies is the production of surfactant. This is a substance made by the cells in the small airways and consists of phospholipids and protein. By about 35 weeks gestation, most babies have developed adequate amounts of surfactant. Surfactant is normally released into the lung tissues where it helps lower surface tension in the airways. This helps keep the lung alveoli (air sacs) open. Premature babies may not have enough surfactant in their lungs and may have difficulty breathing.