Incubators for Babies – Why Are They Important for NICU Babies?

You are waiting excitedly for your nine month journey to be complete, so that your baby will finally be in your arms. However, sometimes due to various reasons, your baby arrives before the nine months are over, or is born with a few issues. Your premature or sick baby will need extra care, as he is still not fully developed or strong enough. Such babies are placed in units that can give them extra care to thrive and develop. Such places in the hospitals are called NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Your baby requiring special care will be placed in an apparatus called an incubator, in the NICU. The incubator has controlled environmental conditions that ensure your baby gets the right care and environment to develop.

What Is an Incubator?

An incubator is a piece of scientific equipment that is a self-contained unit. The unit is of the size of a standard crib, and has a clear plasma dome. This self-contained unit provides controlled environmental conditions to a premature or sick baby. It provides these preemies with ideal or prescribed environmental conditions, as the babies may be lacking skin integrity and body fat, and are not able to regulate their body temperature. The NICU incubator temperature can be manually or automatically adjusted, according to the changes in the preemie’s body temperature. The incubator for premature babies also protects them from allergens, infections, excessive light, and sound, all of which might harm them, as these babies are extremely sensitive and have low immunity. With humidity control and special lights, the incubator is also helpful in treating neonatal jaundice issues, which is common in newborn babies.

Types of Incubators for Babies

There are five common types of hospital incubators most used in the NICU, for the care of a premature or sick newborn baby. These are:

  • Closed Box Incubator

The closed box incubator comes with a fresh air filtration system that minimizes the risk of air-borne infections, and prevents moisture loss from the air.

  • Double-Walled Incubator

A double-walled incubator comes with two walls, as the name suggests. The two walls are to prevent the loss of moisture and heat from the air.

  • Servo-Control Incubator

Servo-control incubators come with automatic settings to control temperature and humidity levels in the incubator.

  • Open-Box Incubator

Open-box incubators are also known as Armstrong incubators. This newborn baby incubator is open to the air, providing easy access.

  • Portable Incubator

Portable incubators, also called transport incubators, are incubators used to transport or move the newborn baby from one hospital to another.

Why Does a Baby Need an Incubator?

There are various reasons due to which a newborn baby may need an incubator. Some common reasons are:

  • Premature birth – Babies born before the due date need additional time and a lot of extra care to develop their vital organs, including their lungs.
  • Breathing issues – Some babies are born with lungs that contain fluid or meconium, which can lead to the inability to breathe, as well as lung infections, and hence need extra monitoring.
  • Infection – A few newborn babies have low immunity, or are sick, hence are highly susceptible to infections. Incubators provide them with a protected space to keep them safe from germs and other infections.
  • Gestational diabetes in mother – If the mother had gestational diabetes, then doctors keep the newborn in an incubator to monitor its blood sugar.
  • Jaundice – Jaundice in newborn babies is very common. Some incubators have special lights to help in reducing jaundice.
  • Traumatic delivery – If the mother had a traumatic delivery, then the newborn has also experienced trauma, and needs constant monitoring and additional care.
  • Low birth weight – If the baby is born with low weight, then it lacks adequate body fat to keep itself warm.
  • Surgery – some newborn babies undergo surgery following their birth. So, they are kept in an incubator to recover from the surgery.

How Do Incubators Work?

Incubators are designed to provide a controlled environment for the babies to stay safe until their vital organs are developed. A premature or sick baby needs a controlled environment to survive and develop. They have an adjustable environment, where the temperature, oxygen, light, sound, and humidity can be controlled as per the baby’s requirement. Incubators protect the babies from infections, allergens, germs, and harmful risks of high light and sound. They are also used to administer various medical procedures such as feeding through an IV, delivering medications/blood, constant monitoring of vital functions, ventilating, and special lights to treat jaundice.  So, an incubator not only provides a safe environment for the baby, but also helps medical professionals in treating and monitoring the baby.

How Can Parents Connect with Their Infant in an Incubator?

A new parent, whose baby is placed in an incubator, worries about connecting with their baby. Though the incubator keeps the baby away from the parent, there are many ways for the parent to connect with their baby inside the incubator. These ways are:

  • Touching and holding their hands and feet through the holes in the incubator.
  • Talking to the baby.
  • Feeding expressed milk.
  • Spending as much time with the baby as possible.
  • Make eye contact with the baby when talking.
  • Doing things repeatedly to create familiarity.

While no one can take the place of a mother for a newborn sick or premature baby, the need to keep the baby safe and under proper medical attention brings in the use of incubators. Though they may seem scary, they offer the perfect controlled environment and protection for the young baby to thrive and survive.

Also Read:

Breastfeeding a NICU Infant
Health Problems of Premature Baby
When Can a Premature Baby Go Home?