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J Perinat Med. 2009;37(6):587-98. doi: 10.1515/JPM.2009.109.

The infant incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit: unresolved issues and future developments.

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Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Department of Pediatrics and Clinical Medicine, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy.


Since the 19th century, devices termed incubators were developed to maintain thermal stability in low birth weight (LBW) and sick newborns, thus improving their chances of survival. Remarkable progress has been made in the production of infant incubators, which are currently highly technological devices. However, they still need to be improved in many aspects. Regarding the temperature and humidity control, future incubators should minimize heat loss from the neonate and eddies around him/her. An unresolved issue is exposure to high noise levels in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Strategies aimed at modifying the behavior of NICU personnel, along with structural improvements in incubator design, are required to reduce noise exposure. Light environment should be taken into consideration in designing new models of incubators. In fact, ambient NICU illumination may cause visual pathway sequelae or possibly retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), while premature exposure to continuous lighting may adversely affect the rest-activity patterns of the newborn. Accordingly, both the use of incubator covers and circadian lighting in the NICU might attenuate these effects. The impact of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on infant health is still unclear. However, future incubators should be designed to minimize the EMF exposure of the newborn.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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