ABC of preterm birth : Care in the early newborn period
- By: William McGuire, Peter Fowlie, Peter McEwan
The first week after birth is a time of major metabolic and physiological adaptation for newborn infants. Preterm infants have to cope with additional stresses because most of their organ systems are immature or because of associated illnesses, such as congenital infection. Very preterm infants (<32 weeks' gestation) or ill infants often need intensive monitoring and support during this critical period of postnatal adaptation.
Preterm infants are susceptible to heat and fluid loss, especially immediately after delivery and in the first few days after birth. Hypothermia is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Trials in the 1950s showed that reducing heat loss improves survival for preterm and low birthweight infants. Measures to prevent cold stress should start immediately after delivery—for example, resuscitating newborns under radiant heaters, drying them, and wrapping them in warmed towels straight away. A randomised controlled trial showed that wrapping the infant in polyethylene immediately (without drying)