A baby’s basic need is to keep warm. Placing your premature or vulnerable baby inside an incubator will meet this need.
Some incubators are closed boxes with hand-sized holes in the side and mechanisms to circulate air inside. Being in a closed box not only keeps the heat in, it also helps doctors to control the humidity around your baby. Humidity is essential for babies below 30 weeks’ gestation, in order to prevent the baby from losing moisture by evaporation through their immature skin.
Other incubators have open tops and often have an overhead heater. These can be referred to as a babytherm and can give staff greater access to your baby. The temperature inside the incubator can be regulated in two ways. It can be set by the nurse with the incubator controls or set up to respond to information about your baby’s temperature that is collected by a small sensor on your baby’s skin. If the sensor falls off or does not pick up your baby’s temperature, this will trigger an alarm so that the nurse can make sure that the incubator does not become too warm.
Your baby may progress to a cot when they become more stable and require less support, or they may be in special care for a shorter period of time. These allow you to help with your baby’s daily cares and give you easier access to your baby.
Monitors are used in the unit to check your baby’s vital signs without disturbing the baby. These monitors with their lines and pads may look very scary, but they are necessary to ensure that your baby is receiving the best care.
The monitors used are very sensitive and are programmed to go off when the slightest change is detected. Sometimes they can be disturbed by the baby’s movement and do not necessarily reflect an emergency.
Vital signs monitors – Small pads may be placed on the baby’s chest with cables running to a monitor. These pick up the electrical signals given out by the baby’s heart. The monitor constantly checks that the heart is beating properly. The pads can also detect changes during breathing. Prolonged pauses in breathing may trigger an alarm.
Apnoea alarms – Apnoea is a period when the baby forgets to breathe; this is common among babies in special care. When a baby is on a ventilator it doesn’t matter if they take a pause in their breathing. Once the ventilator has been removed, any pauses are a cause for concern. CPAP can help limit this, but babies coming off ventilators will be fitted with a monitor that will set off an alarm if they pause for too long between breaths.
Blood saturation monitors – This type of monitor is normally strapped gently to the baby’s foot or hand. The monitor shines a red light through the skin onto a sensor that monitors the level of oxygen in your baby’s blood.