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Apnea Monitor

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Take Your Baby Home with an Apnea Monitor

An apnea monitor is a machine that detects your baby's chest movement (breathing) and heart rate. If your baby's heart rate slows down (bradycardia) or the chest stops moving (apnea), the monitor will sound to alert you to check on your baby. An apnea monitor is not a cure for apnea. The machine will alarm to let you know when your baby may need help or there are problems with the equipment. When you hear the monitor's alarm you must check on your baby right away -- every time.

What is an Apnea Monitor?

  • Apnea: Not breathing
  • Bradycardia: Slowing of the heart rate lower than what is normal for your baby's age.
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): "Cardio" refers to heart and "Pulmonary" refers to lungs. This is a technique used to restore circulation and breathing in an infant whose breathing or heart has stopped.
  • Cyanotic/Cyanosis: An abnormal bluish skin color. It can be seen best on your baby's face.
  • False Alarms: An alarm that goes off for apnea or low heart rate, but when you check on your baby he/she is fine. This can be caused by electrodes that are dirty or in the wrong position or by a belt fastened too loosely.
  • Loose Lead or Equipment Alarm: A loose lead alarm occurs when the monitor cannot pick up a signal from the lead. It may be caused by loose connections, a loose belt, loose or worn electrodes, or worn lead wires.
  • Self-Correcting Episode: An episode of apnea or low heart rate in which your baby corrects the cause of the alarm by himself/herself without you having to stimulate him/her.
  • Stimulation: Attempts to make your baby awake and active. Examples may include touching, tapping a foot, patting firmly, or picking baby up.

Parts of the Apnea Monitor

  • Electrodes: Small pads that are placed on your baby's skin. The pads will sense your baby's heart and breathing rates.
  • Lead Wires: Wires that connect the electrodes to the patient cable.
  • Belt: A flat, sponge-rubber belt that fastens with Velcro. Used to hold the electrodes in place on your baby's chest.
  • Cable: The cable connects the lead wires to the monitor.

Preparing to Go Home with a Monitor:

Before leaving the hospital you will be taught how to take care of your baby. This may include:

  • How to give your baby medicine
  • Working the monitor
  • Learning how to respond when your baby's monitor alarm sounds
  • Learning infant CPR

After learning infant CPR and how to use the monitor you may "room in" overnight with your baby and the monitor. This will give you time to practice using the monitor, responding to alarms, troubleshoot problems and ask questions.

When to use the Apnea Monitor

  • Sleeping (naptime and bedtime)
  • Riding in the car
  • Not being held or watched closely

Lead Placement

  1. Wash and dry your baby's chest. Do not use powder, oil, or lotion on the chest. Your baby's chest must be clean for the electrodes to sense the heart and breathing rates.
  2. Connect the electrodes to the lead wires (one lead wire is white, the other is black). Make sure the metal tips of the lead wires are pushed in all the way.
  3. Put the foam belt on a flat surface. Place your baby's back on the belt so the belt is lined up with your baby's nipples.
  4. Place the electrodes on the belt so that the electrodes are under each armpit lined up with the nipples. The electrode with the WHITE lead wire should be on your baby's right side (your left). The electrode with the BLACK lead wire should be on your baby's left side (your right).
  5. Wrap the belt around your baby's chest and fasten it with the Velcro tab. It should be tight enough so that you can fit only one finger between the belt and your baby's chest wall.

    Note: You may need to shorten the belt by cutting it. If the belt is too loose the monitor will not pick up the signal for your baby's heart and breathing rates and may result in frequent loose lead or false alarms.

  6. Connect the lead wires to the patient cable. Keep the lead wires away from your baby's head and neck by threading the wires down through the bottom of his/her sleeper or clothes.
    • The WHITE lead goes into the hole in the cable marked RA (this stands for right arm).
    • The BLACK lead goes into the hole in the cable marked LA (this stands for left arm).
  7. Turn the monitor on by pressing the "ON" button.

When to call the Doctor

  • Anytime you have questions or problems.
  • If your baby has more than two self-correcting spells in 24 hours during sleep.
  • Anytime your baby has a spell needing stimulation.
  • Anytime your baby has a low heart rate alarm greater than three beeps long during sleep.

Troubleshooting Guide for Home Monitors


Possible Problem

What To Do

Frequent High Heart Rate

Crying/screaming baby

Electrical interference


Internal part failure


Do not place monitor near TV’s, radios, microwaves, CB’s, etc.

Call the monitor company.

"False Apnea"

Loose belt

Shallow breathing

Make sure the belt is tight.  Only one finger should fit between the belt and the baby’s chest wall. 

Make sure electrodes are placed under baby’s armpits at the level of the nipples.

Constant Alarm Sound
(without lit alarm light)

Monitor turned off without holding reset button in; improper turn off sequence.


Internal part failure.

Turn monitor back on, and then hold the reset button in while turning monitor off.

Call the monitor company.

Loose Lead

Belt too loose and/or electrodes making poor contact with skin.


Lead wires disconnected from electrodes and/or patient cable.


Patient cable disconnected.

Tighten belt.  Check position of electrodes.

Check lead wires for secure connection to patient cable/electrodes.

Check connection of patient cable to monitor.

If you are still having problems with loose lead alarms and you believe everything is hooked up correctly, the problem may be because of broken lead wires or worn out electrodes. Try replacing both pairs of lead wires and electrodes.

If the loose lead alarms continue after you have changed the lead wires and electrodes, call the monitor company so they can help you. 

Things to Remember

  • Handle your baby normally. Babies need to be held, cuddled, and played with. Being attached to a monitor should not mean "hands off".
  • If you ever have to do mouth-to-mouth breathing or CPR on your baby - always immediately call the rescue squad and have your baby taken to the nearest Emergency Room to be checked by a doctor.
  • All persons (parents, grandparents, siblings, babysitters, etc.) caring for your baby must be trained in both infant CPR and how to use the monitor. Do not train these persons yourself. For CPR training - call your local Red Cross or American Heart Association. For monitor training - contact the company from which you received the monitor.
  • Always keep the apnea monitor plugged in when at home. This will keep the batteries fully charged so that you can use the monitor in the car, while running errands, or in case the power goes out.
  • Always keep two complete belts and lead kits with you. One set should be in use on your baby. The other kit should be in the monitor bag in case it is needed. Once you open the second kit make sure you call the monitor company (their number should be posted on the top of the monitor), so that they can send you another belt kit.
  • Gently wipe the electrodes off with a clean soft cloth daily or a damp cloth if there is visible soiling on the electrodes. This will remove the buildup of dirt and sweat and help the monitor sense your baby's heart and breathing rates better.
  • The Velcro belt should be washed by hand in warm, soapy water as needed, rinsed well, and allowed to air dry. Do not place the foam belt in your washer or dryer. Make sure you rinse all the soap out of the belt as any residue may cause your baby's skin to become red and irritated. Changes in the shape of the belt means you need a new belt (thinning or curving along edges).
  • Never put the monitor or its cords/wires into water. Never use the monitor while bathing your baby.
  • Keep the monitor out of reach of small children.
  • Keep the telephone nearby. Post the emergency/rescue squad numbers by each telephone.
  • Always carry the apnea monitor with you during bus, taxi, plane, or other trips. Do not pack the monitor in your luggage.

Disclaimer:This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 04/2008

(757) 668-7000