Technology that Shapes Our Lives
September 7, 1888
Edith Eleanor McLean, weighing 2 pounds, 7 ounces, was the first baby to be placed in an incubator – at State Emigrant Hospital on Ward’s Island, New York.
Originally called a “hatching cradle,” the device was 3-ft square, 4-ft high. It was designed to increase the survival rate for premature infants by the maternity ward doctors, Drs. Allan M. Thomas and William C. Deming.
A neonatal incubator is a device consisting of a rigid box-like enclosure in which an infant may be kept in a controlled environment for medical care. The device may include an AC-powered heater, a fan to circulate the warmed air, a container for water to add humidity, a control valve through which oxygen may be added, and access ports for nursing care. It may also contain a servocontrol to help regulate incubator air temperature.
In infants born before 31 weeks gestation, evaporative water loss is the single most important channel of heat loss. This is due to inadequate keratinisation of the skin, which allows a high permeability of water to the skin. The permeability drops rapidly in the first 7 to 10 days after birth unless the skin becomes traumatized or secondarily infected. In that 7 to 10 day period, the absolute humidity must be monitored so that evaporative heat loss is kept to a minimum as well as water loss through the skin.
There have been significant advances in thermoregulation since the 1960s. These advances have reduced mortality in small babies by 25%.