Neonatal depression, or neonatal respiratory depression, refers to a dangerously low breathing rate in newborn babies. There are a variety of possible causes of neonatal depression.
Respiratory depression refers to a breathing rate that falls below 12 breaths per minute and that fails to adequately ventilate the lungs, according to Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition.
Four types of neonatal depression exist, according to an article in the journal Canadian Family Physician. Some babies exhibit respiratory depression as soon as they are born, some have normal respiration at birth but then respiration suddenly becomes depressed, some babies are born with normal respiration that declines gradually, and some show signs of asphyxiation while breathing normally.
Newborn babies at risk of neonatal depression may be born prematurely, have a birth defect, have experienced asphyxia in the womb, or may have been exposed to anesthetic or analgesic drugs taken by the mother during the birth process, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Allied Nursing and Health.
The drug naloxone may be administered to counteract the effects of analgesic drugs to which the baby may have been exposed. Other methods of restoring normal breathing may involve opening the baby's airways, applying an oxygen mask or inserting tubes to help ventilate the lungs.
Neonatal respiratory depression is associated with many cases of babies that die within 24 hours of being born, according to eMedicine.