Preterm birth rates are rising, and many preterm infants have breathing difficulty after birth. Treatments for infants with prolonged breathing difficulty include oxygen therapy, exogenous surfactant, various modes of respiratory support, and postnatal corticosteroids. In this Series paper, we review the history of neonatal respiratory care and its effect on long-term outcomes, and we outline the future direction of the research field. The delivery and monitoring of oxygen therapy remains controversial, despite being in use for more than 50 years. Exogenous surfactant replacement has been used for 25 years and has dramatically reduced mortality and morbidity, but more research on when and how it is administered is needed. Methods and techniques of neonatal respiratory support are evolving. Clinicians are moving away from routine intubation and ventilation, and new modes of non-invasive support are being investigated. Postnatal corticosteroids have a limited role in infants with evolving bronchopulmonary dysplasia, but more research is needed to identify the best timing, type, dose, and method of administration. Despite advances in neonatal care in the past 50 years, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, with all its adverse short-term and long-term consequences, is still a serious problem in neonatal care. The challenge remains to support breathing in preterm infants, with special attention to risk factors in the subpopulation of infants that are at highest risk of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, without damaging their lungs or adversely affecting their long-term health.
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