It is important to realize that the “mucus” that newborns so often gag on is not the same mucus that drips from noses or is hawked out of bronchial trees. Newborn mucus isn’t even reallymucus. It doesn’t come from mucous glands. Its chemical makeup is entirely different from the soft of mucus that discharges from the glands in our respiratory, intestinal, and reproductive tracts. Newborn mucus is a unique fluid that’s either secreted from the fetal lung alone or is a blend of amniotic fluid and fetal lung secretion. Before the baby takes his first breath, his lungs are filled with this juice. The full-termer arrives with about 80 to 100 milliliters of it in his lungs. As soon as the baby is born, this mucus must make way for air. Most of it is absorbed into the baby’s veins and the lymph channels of his lungs.
Up to 20 milliliters of the mucus is expressed through the baby’s nose and mouth by the squeezing of his chest as he passes through the birth canal. This gets suctioned out while the baby is still in the delivery room, often before the baby is fully delivered. The mucus that didn’t get high enough to get suctioned, and didn’t get absorbed into the lungs’ veins, is eliminated during the first week of life. The lining of the baby’s respiratory tree sweeps the mucus upward toward the mouth. Once it gets there, the infant swallows some, gags on some, and some ends up in your lap. Whatever the route of disposal, once it’s gone, no more is produced and that’s the end of the mucus.
SQUEAKY BREATHING (Congenital Stridor)
Some babies squeak when they inhale. If that sound came from your car, you would probably reach for a can of oil. If it came from your baby, read on. Doctors describe babies who produce a sound when they inhale as having congenital stridor (congenital means present at birth; stridor is harsh sound). Seventy-five percent of babies with congenital stridor also have laryngomalacia (the larynx is the voice box; malaria means softening). Doctors can recognize the great majority of laryngomalacia cases simply by the sound. Roughly one fifth aren’t obvious until a specialist looks at the voice box.
Babies with laryngomalacia produce a high-pitched, fluttery, staccato sound as they inhale. It’s loudest when the baby is excited, feeding, or lying on his back, and it may not happen with every breath, Despite the squeak, a baby with laryngomalacia has a strong voice, his color is good, and he has no special feeding difficulties. If he catches a cold the mucus and swelling may aggravate things, and he needs to be watched a bit closer than the baby who doesn’t squeak. A baby’s very first breath can produce a squeak, or the sound may not start until he’s six months old. Squeaks usually stop before the second birthday, but some babies squeak until they’re five. If a specialist looks at the baby’s larynx, she will see an epiglottis that buckles when the baby breathes in, a thick wall of cartilage that caves in, or both. She’ll tell you that, as the baby gets older, the voice box will become more rigid and the sounds will stop. She’ll be right, of course.