Respiratory muscle rigidity in a preterm infant after use of fentanyl during Caesarean section

Eur J Pediatr. 1998 Dec;157(12):1012-3. doi: 10.1007/s004310050988.


Fentanyl is in many neonatal intensive care units the sedative of choice. One side-effect is, however, the possibility of muscle and/or chest wall rigidity. A pregnant woman with a critical pulmonary valve stenosis had a balloon dilatation at 26 weeks of gestation. She was put on propranolol, but went into a severe cardiac failure. In week 31, she developed pregnancy induced hypertension. Periodically absent diastolic flow in the umbilical cord was demonstrated. A Caesarean section was performed using fentanyl as analgesia. A boy weighing 1440 g, had a 1 min Apgar score of 3 without respiratory movements. Mask ventilation was tried, but chest wall expansion was not achieved despite using high pressures. He was intubated and positive pressure ventilation attempted, with the same result. Despite the use of high pressures up to 60-70 cm H2O, no chest movement could be achieved. An intravenous line was established in order to give naloxone and pancuronium. Just before the drugs were given, chest wall movements were achieved and the heart rate normalized.

Conclusion: This is the first report on chest wall rigidity in a neonate after administration of fentanyl to the mother during Caesarean section.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Cesarean Section*
  • Female
  • Fentanyl / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Paralysis / chemically induced*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Fentanyl