Heat loss and newborns

When your baby is born, baby has to make the incredible transition, from having all his/her needs taken care of – to one where his/her own body has to carry out all the functions that were taken care of while inside the womb … so heat loss and newborns is an important factor that needs to be taken into account, when caring for a newborn baby.

For your newborn to maintain it’s own temperature and ensure that heat loss is minimized – is a huge task, especially in the first days after birth.
Because the heat control centre in your baby’s brain is still developing, newborns have special needs when it comes to heat loss and prevention of cold.

In order for anyone to maintain their temperature a number of factors need to be taken into account

* Stores of energy (fat etc)
* Availability of calories (food)
* Room temperature and/or Outside temperature
* The clothing we are wearing
* Is it very windy (draughty) and the humidity

Your baby is born with a limited energy store, which is why it is important that breast –feeding(food) is offered soon after your baby is born, and then regularly after that. Your baby will depend on you to keep him/her in a suitable environment, and will depend on you to dress them appropriately.
If it is a windy day – remember that the baby will get cold quicker, and that if it is a very humid day – your baby will overheat more quickly.

Newborns are particularly susceptible to neonatal heat lost because of the following factors

* They lose heat via evaporation after birth – as the amniotic fluid (the water around the baby – evaporates from his skin – this causes your newborn baby heat loss. This is why it is important that as soon as your baby is born, your baby is dried with a towel (which is preferably warm as well) – this can be done safely with your baby lying against your body – as your body will help warm them by…
* Conduction – as your baby lies against your body – their body will keep warm, the same way that if you lie your baby on a cold surface – it will cause your newborn heat loss.
* Radiation is another way your newborn can lose heat. If there are colder objects nearby – heat goes from the warmer object (in this case your baby) to the colder object. This works in reverse as well – as with a radiant heater, which radiates heat into the room. The objects closer to the heat source will heat up more
* Convection – if you place your newborn in a drafty area – this will again cause your newborn heat loss.

All these factors are even more important when trying to prevent heat loss in a newborn because a newborn baby has special challenges they face, particularly soon after birth.

* The heat control centre in the brain is still immature
* If they become cold, this lowers their blood sugar, and as all body functions are dependent on an adequate blood sugar – this puts them at risk.
* With a newborn baby – a loss in heat will also increase their body’s demands for oxygen. These factors are even more important if your baby is small or has other health problems they are coping with
* Because a newborn baby’s head is so large in comparison to the rest of his body (approximately 25%) you newborn baby is also able to lose more heat from his/her head. That is why it is a good idea to cover your baby’s head – especially in a cool environment – making sure that their face cannot become obstructed by the cover(hat, bonnet etc) – in line with SIDS prevention.   The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:  “Infant sleep clothing that is designed to keep the infant warm without the possible hazard of head covering or entrapment can be used”.   In Australia the recommendation is “Sleep baby with head and face uncovered”.
* Maternity hospitals and birthing suites are often air-conditioned – so you need to be aware that your baby is more likely to lose heat in that sort of environment.
* If a baby overheats – which they can also do very easily – they again have increased Oxygen demands on their body.
* That is why we try to provide babies with a “neutral thermal environment”- that is an environment where they are not likely to get too hot, or to get cold.

Heat loss and newborns – what you can do to help

* In order to work out your baby’s temperature – place your hand on your baby’s body (tummy) – this is a better way to judge your baby’s temperature than feeling their hands or feet – their circulation may not yet be very good. Their body needs to feel warm – similarly to your body.
* As a general rule, women tend to feel the cold more than men, so dress the baby in the same number of layers as the mother for a hot day, but on a cold day – add an extra layer.
* When your baby needs to be naked – e.g. for bathing, if you can warm the room – that is great – otherwise make sure your baby is quickly dried and dressed after the bath. Make sure if you are going to massage your baby that the environment is warm.
* In a cold environment, it is great if you can warm the items that are going to come in contact with your baby – e.g. towel, clothes etc.
* Bath water should not be luke-warm, as it will quickly cool down and your baby will become cold. Also, lying in only an inch or two of water is not a pleasant experience (you would not want to have a bath in a few inches of water). Make sure the majority of your baby’s body is covered in warm water – keep a good grip on the baby, and ensure that your baby’s head stays above the water.
* Dry and dress your baby quickly after a bath.
* If you are going to massage your baby, I prefer not to do it after the bath, as the baby is too likely to become cold. Either do it before the bath (take care that you are able to grip the baby firmly as they will be slippery from the oil), or massage your baby at a separate time from bath time. I am referring here to newborn babies, older baby’s are more likely to cope.
* Ensure that your baby is feeding regularly

Don’t let all this overwhelm you – soon you will become an expert on caring for your newborn baby. It is similar to caring for yourself – except like having someone fussing around – making sure you eat enough (the right food), that you are comfortable, not feeling a chill or getting too hot etc etc and taking the appropriate action.