Objective: We tested the hypothesis that healthy preterm infants have attenuated ventilatory responses to hypercapnia, associated with a decreased rib cage contribution to ventilation, in the supine versus prone position.
Study design: We elicited hypercapnic ventilatory responses from 19 healthy preterm infants (postconceptional age 35 +/- 1 weeks) who were being prepared for hospital discharge. The O2 saturation was continuously monitored. Before and during CO2 rebreathing, ventilation was measured with a nasal mask pneumotachygraph and was derived from chest wall motion as determined by respiratory inductance plethysmograph. This measuring method allowed us to compare both ventilation and the percentage rib cage contribution to ventilation between supine and prone positions. Statistical analysis employed analysis of variance with repeated measures.
Results: The supine position was associated with a higher respiratory rate (p < 0.02) and lower O2 saturation (p < 0.007) than the prone position. The increase in ventilation in response to hypercapnia was lower in the supine than in the prone position. This was statistically significant for the respiratory inductance plethysmograph (p < 0.008) but not the pneumotachygraph (p = 0.077), and was associated with a smaller rib cage contribution to ventilation in the supine than in the prone position (p < 0.0001).
Conclusion: Respiratory control may be vulnerable when healthy preterm infants are placed supine. Widespread avoidance of the prone position may not be appropriate for such patients.