<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Fetal “breathing”

Although the function of fetal breathing movements is not entirely clear, they can be observed starting at 20–21 weeks of development. Fetal breathing movements involve muscle contractions that cause the inhalation of amniotic fluid and exhalation of the same fluid, with pulmonary surfactant and mucus. Fetal breathing movements are not continuous and may include periods of frequent movements and periods of no movements. Maternal factors can influence the frequency of breathing movements. For example, high blood glucose levels, called hyperglycemia, can boost the number of breathing movements. Conversely, low blood glucose levels, called hypoglycemia, can reduce the number of fetal breathing movements. Tobacco use is also known to lower fetal breathing rates. Fetal breathing may help tone the muscles in preparation for breathing movements once the fetus is born. It may also help the alveoli to form and mature. Fetal breathing movements are considered a sign of robust health.


Prior to birth, the lungs are filled with amniotic fluid, mucus, and surfactant. As the fetus is squeezed through the birth canal, the fetal thoracic cavity is compressed, expelling much of this fluid. Some fluid remains, however, but is rapidly absorbed by the body shortly after birth. The first inhalation occurs within 10 seconds after birth and not only serves as the first inspiration, but also acts to inflate the lungs. Pulmonary surfactant is critical for inflation to occur, as it reduces the surface tension of the alveoli. Preterm birth around 26 weeks frequently results in severe respiratory distress, although with current medical advancements, some babies may survive. Prior to 26 weeks, sufficient pulmonary surfactant is not produced, and the surfaces for gas exchange have not formed adequately; therefore, survival is low.

Disorders of the…

Respiratory system: respiratory distress syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) primarily occurs in infants born prematurely. Up to 50 percent of infants born between 26 and 28 weeks and fewer than 30 percent of infants born between 30 and 31 weeks develop RDS. RDS results from insufficient production of pulmonary surfactant, thereby preventing the lungs from properly inflating at birth. A small amount of pulmonary surfactant is produced beginning at around 20 weeks; however, this is not sufficient for inflation of the lungs. As a result, dyspnea occurs and gas exchange cannot be performed properly. Blood oxygen levels are low, whereas blood carbon dioxide levels and pH are high.

The primary cause of RDS is premature birth, which may be due to a variety of known or unknown causes. Other risk factors include gestational diabetes, cesarean delivery, second-born twins, and family history of RDS. The presence of RDS can lead to other serious disorders, such as septicemia (infection of the blood) or pulmonary hemorrhage. Therefore, it is important that RDS is immediately recognized and treated to prevent death and reduce the risk of developing other disorders.

Medical advances have resulted in an improved ability to treat RDS and support the infant until proper lung development can occur. At the time of delivery, treatment may include resuscitation and intubation if the infant does not breathe on his or her own. These infants would need to be placed on a ventilator to mechanically assist with the breathing process. If spontaneous breathing occurs, application of nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be required. In addition, pulmonary surfactant is typically administered. Death due to RDS has been reduced by 50 percent due to the introduction of pulmonary surfactant therapy. Other therapies may include corticosteroids, supplemental oxygen, and assisted ventilation. Supportive therapies, such as temperature regulation, nutritional support, and antibiotics, may be administered to the premature infant as well.

Chapter review

The development of the respiratory system in the fetus begins at about 4 weeks and continues into childhood. Ectodermal tissue in the anterior portion of the head region invaginates posteriorly, forming olfactory pits, which ultimately fuse with endodermal tissue of the early pharynx. At about this same time, an protrusion of endodermal tissue extends anteriorly from the foregut, producing a lung bud, which continues to elongate until it forms the laryngotracheal bud. The proximal portion of this structure will mature into the trachea, whereas the bulbous end will branch to form two bronchial buds. These buds then branch repeatedly, so that at about week 16, all major airway structures are present. Development progresses after week 16 as respiratory bronchioles and alveolar ducts form, and extensive vascularization occurs. Alveolar type I cells also begin to take shape. Type II pulmonary cells develop and begin to produce small amounts of surfactant. As the fetus grows, the respiratory system continues to expand as more alveoli develop and more surfactant is produced. Beginning at about week 36 and lasting into childhood, alveolar precursors mature to become fully functional alveoli. At birth, compression of the thoracic cavity forces much of the fluid in the lungs to be expelled. The first inhalation inflates the lungs. Fetal breathing movements begin around week 20 or 21, and occur when contractions of the respiratory muscles cause the fetus to inhale and exhale amniotic fluid. These movements continue until birth and may help to tone the muscles in preparation for breathing after birth and are a sign of good health.

Questions & Answers

Process of bone healing
Thelma Reply
The fractured bones are brought closer (reduction of fracture). the fibroblast cells at broken ends divide rapidly and secrete collagen that forms collar of callus. The callus holds the bones together which slowly clacifies (remodelling) and later replaced by bone tissue.
what is the name of the two subunits of L chain of a antibody structure
Arshi Reply
The pituitary gland lies in the
Aamir Reply
bony cavity,sella tursica
how does endochrondral ossification start in short bones?
Steven Reply
the chondroblast cells forms a cartilaginous bone model which becomes calcified in mid region and is innervated by perosteal capillaries. These capillaris replaces cartilages with bone tissue.
what is RH blood group
kuukyile Reply
It is a type of system for classifying blood groups according to the presence or absence of the Rh antigen.
What is the most important organ in the human body?
Gbemi Reply
the heart
or brain
the brain specifically is referred to as the control centre ..all nerve impulses are send to the brain which stimulates other specific parts of the body
please if l am Blood group B+ can l marry a lady with O- blood group?
structure of a serous membrane
Ziyanda Reply
are you asking?
In anatomy, serous membrane (or serosa) is a smooth tissue membrane consisting of two layers of mesothelium, which secrete serous fluid. The inner layer that covers organs (viscera) in body cavities is called the visceral membrane. A second layer of epithelial cells of the serous membrane, called th
The two layers of serous membranes are named parietal and visceral. Between the two layers is a thin fluid filled space.[2] The fluid is produced by the serous membranes and stays between the two layers to reduce friction between the walls of the cavities and the internal organs when they move with
a continuation from the 1st one:: A second layer of epithelial cells of the serous membrane, called the parietal layer, lines the body wall. Between the two layers is a potential space, mostly empty except for a few milliliters of lubricating serous fluid that is secreted by the two serous membranes
Lubricated secretion of skin is called sebum
what is the greater tronchanter?
the greater trochanter is  femur is a large, irregular, quadrilateral eminence and a is a part of the system of the skeleton
Thanks Jessie...
what is the easiest way to learn labels of Anatomical structures?
Name the two phases of metabolism
Grace Reply
reproduction and growth
how about anabolism and catabolism?
In Simply Anabolism means formation... Catabolism means breakdown
two phases of reproductio?
Anabolism indicates potential & catabolism potential converts to kinetic
Name the most important life process in the human body in terms of anatomy and physiology
Nervous system
Every system is important for body functions
what is the difference between the functions of the adhesion belt and the desmosomes?
Mason Reply
what are the derivatives of the germ layer?
Miriam Reply
Pls explain the atlas of the cervical vertebral column
Ifunanya Reply
why does the material not allow in mri
Simran Reply
what do you mean 'mri'
short for magnetic resonance imaging. "the researchers used MRI to record the brain activity" a medical examination performed using magnetic resonance imaging. "he's having an MRI to determine the extent of the injury" an image obtained by magnetic resonance imaging. "after looking at the MRI, the d
what is the meaning of sutures
Ibrahim Reply
i do not know
immovable joints btn two bones.eg the skull bones
Really,it's true
Sutures are immovable junction between two bones e.g those of the skull
what should I do to get or to know what to do for me to be excellent in the course of anatomy and physiology
Sandra Reply
study harder
Between the heart and the Brain which one is more important to human being... discuss
Faith Reply
well the brain is important for motor skills, the heart is important for involuntary muscle movement supporting body functions. the body can survive without brain involvement, but the body cannot last without the heart
granted the heart is important, but the brain gives the body purpose
the brain is more important
Even though the brain helps the human being to behave normally and purposefully, I think the heart is much more important cos human being cannot live without the heart
change the question
hello guys
it is difficult to select which organ is more important, now you can replace the heart with a mechanical device and the body could still function, and with technology today brain activity can also be replicated. But life would not be the same
there's coordination btn the two..so without any of them no life
the heart
The brain is important to humans.

Get the best Anatomy & Physiology course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Anatomy & Physiology' conversation and receive update notifications?