Pneumogram, NICU

A pneumogram is a test that monitors the breathing rate, heart rate, and the amount of oxygen that gets into the blood (oxygen saturation). This test is also called pneumography, and it may also be called a "sleep study." This test is commonly done in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for premature babies. The reason for doing a pneumogram is to monitor and detect periods when the baby stops breathing (apnea). All babies have pauses in their breathing. Apnea is when either:

  • More than 20 seconds pass without a breath.

  • More than 10 seconds pass without a breath and either the heart rate slows or the oxygen content of the blood decreases.

During an apnea spell the skin may turn pale, purplish, or blue from a lower amount of oxygen. Apnea can be caused by many things. It is usually caused by apnea of prematurity (AOP). The cause of AOP is poorly understood but may be associated with an immaturity in the area of the baby's brain that controls the drive to breathe. Almost all babies born at 30 weeks gestation or less will experience apnea, but the spells typically become less frequent with age. Illness (such as infections) can also cause apnea spells.

A pneumogram is one of several forms of monitoring and testing for babies who are at risk for apnea. These tests are used to see if a baby has apnea and what may be causing these episodes. Other tests include:

  • Blood tests.

  • Monitoring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

  • X-rays.

  • Electrocardiograms (recordings of the heart).

When apnea spells are detected, simple stimulation, such as rubbing the back or tapping the feet, can frequently trigger the baby to breathe. If the spells occur frequently, the baby may require:

  • Medicine.

  • A device that blows a steady stream of air into the nose.


There are no risks to the baby.


A pneumogram is a non-invasive procedure. There are no needles or tubes used, and the testing causes no pain. Electrode patches are placed on the baby's skin to obtain breathing and heart rate information. There are no other specific preparations needed before the test is done.


  • Pneumogram testing is carried out in the NICU.

  • Monitoring may last anywhere from 12 to 48 hours.

  • The pneumogram includes a continuous recording of the breathing patterns of the baby.


The recording made can be played back rapidly by a technician and reviewed for abnormal patterns. Your baby's caregiver will talk to you about the results and make any needed recommendations.