Head insulation and heat loss in naked and clothed newborns using a thermal mannequin

Med Phys. 2002 Jun;29(6):1090-6. doi: 10.1118/1.1481518.


In newborns, large amounts of heat are lost from the head, due to its high skin surface area. Insulating the head (for example, with a hat or bonnet) can be a simple and effective method of reducing dry heat loss. In the present study, we evaluated the safety aspects of insulating the head of low-birth-weight naked or clothed newborns by using a heated mannequin that simulates a low-birth-weight newborn. Experimental conditions (comprising a nude and three clothed setups) were performed in a closed incubator at three different air temperatures (29 degrees C, 32 degrees C, and 34 degrees C) and with and without the head being covered with a bonnet in each case, i.e., 24 experimental conditions in all. The study shows that added clothing elements and insulating the head decreases the total heat loss of the mannequin as a whole. As regards the dry heat exchange from the head, wearing a bonnet decreases the local heat loss by an average of 18.9% in all clothed and thermal conditions. This phenomenon could be at the origin of brain overheating in heavily dressed newborns, when unrestricted heat loss is limited to the face only. Our results suggest that--apart from accidental hypothermia-in order to achieve thermal equilibrium of the body, it is preferable to leave the head unprotected and to increase the level of clothing insulation over the rest of the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Clothing
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control
  • Incubators, Infant*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Manikins*
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Surface Properties
  • Temperature