Thermal protection of the newborn in resource-limited environments

J Perinatol. 2012 May;32(5):317-24. doi: 10.1038/jp.2012.11. Epub 2012 Mar 1.


Appropriate thermal protection of the newborn prevents hypothermia and its associated burden of morbidity and mortality. Yet, current global birth practices tend to not adequately address this challenge. Here, we discuss the pathophysiology of hypothermia in the newborn, its prevention and therapeutic options with particular attention to resource-limited environments. Newborns are equipped with sophisticated mechanisms of body temperature regulation. Neonatal thermoregulation is a critical function for newborn survival, regulated in the hypothalamus and mediated by endocrine pathways. Hypothermia activates cellular metabolism through shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis. In newborns, optimal temperature ranges are narrow and thermoregulatory mechanisms easily overwhelmed, particularly in premature and low-birth weight infants. Hyperthermia most commonly is associated with dehydration and potentially sepsis. The lack of thermal protection promptly leads to hypothermia, which is associated with detrimental metabolic and other pathophysiological processes. Simple thermal protection strategies are feasible at community and institutional levels in resource-limited environments. Appropriate interventions include skin-to-skin care, breastfeeding and protective clothing or devices. Due to poor provider training and limited awareness of the problem, appropriate thermal care of the newborn is often neglected in many settings. Education and appropriate devices might foster improved hypothermia management through mothers, birth attendants and health care workers. Integration of relatively simple thermal protection interventions into existing mother and child health programs can effectively prevent newborn hypothermia even in resource-limited environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Delivery Rooms
  • Female
  • Fever / mortality
  • Fever / physiopathology
  • Fever / prevention & control
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Resources / economics
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / mortality
  • Hypothermia / physiopathology
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control*
  • Infant Care / economics
  • Infant Care / methods*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • Thermogenesis / physiology