Temperature variation in newborn babies: importance of physical contact with the mother

Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal and Neonatal Edition 2005;90:F500-F504;

A-L Fransson, H Karlsson and K Nilsson

Background: Hypothermia is a major cause of deterioration and death in the neonatal period. Temperature deviations are key signs of illness.

Objective: To determine normal patterns of temperature variation in newborn babies and the influence of external factors.

Methods: Abdominal and foot skin temperature were continuously recorded in 27 healthy full term babies during the first two days of life and related to the care situation—that is, whether the baby was with the mother or in its cot. The recordings were made using no wires to avoid interference with the care of the neonate. Ambient temperature was close to 23°C during the study period.

Results: Mean rectal and abdominal and foot skin temperature were lower on day 1 than day 2. The foot skin temperature was directly related to the care situation, being significantly higher when the baby was with the mother. The abdominal skin temperature was much less influenced by external factors. When the neonates were with their mothers, the mean difference between rectal temperature and abdominal skin temperature was 0.2°C compared with a mean difference between rectal temperature and foot skin temperature of 1.5°C, indicating a positive heat balance. In the cot the corresponding temperature differences were 0.7°C and 7.5°C. A temperature difference between rectal and foot skin temperature of 7–8°C indicates a heat loss close to the maximum for which a neonate can compensate (about 70 W/m2).

Conclusion: This study emphasises the importance of close physical contact with the mothers for temperature regulation during the first few postnatal days.

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