Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Baby Epiglottis

Ever wonder how babies can drink and breath at the same time? Think about it - you can't drink and breath at the same time (try it if you don't believe me), and nursing babies don't come up for air once they "latch on".

I was studying this very concept for my board exams just over a year ago, at the same time my son was just a wee infant. The answer lies in the epiglottis. Here is an illustration of the epiglottis of an infant:
The key difference is that the shape of the baby's throat allows the epiglottis (the green shaded area) to come into contact with the soft palate (yellow), thus allowing air (shown in light blue) to enter the trachea, while milk (shown in pink) can flow around on either side.

I was recently reminded of this concept during our summer break at my parent's house when Jordan was drinking from a sippy cup and started coughing. I looked at him and asked if he got some down the wrong pipe and then realized that this had never happened to him before. I realized my little boy is growing up - his epiglottis is no longer touching his soft palate when he drinks! He'll just have to alternate between drinking and breathing just like the rest of us now. I think this is a milestone in toddlers lives that most parents are unaware of.

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