Background: More and progressively smaller preterm infants are taken out of the incubator and placed skin to skin on their mother's chest to promote bonding, despite concerns that the infants are exposed to cold during this intervention.
Objective: To test the hypothesis that skin-to-skin care is a cold stress for preterm infants weighing less than 1500 gm, with a decrease in rectal temperature, a decrease in peripheral skin temperature, or an increase in oxygen consumption compared with conditions monitored during incubator care.
Study design: We studied 22 stable, spontaneously breathing preterm infants weighing less than 1500 gm (appropriate in size for gestational age), who had their first skin-to-skin care in the first week of life. We continuously measured rectal temperature, peripheral skin temperature (foot), and oxygen consumption (indirect calorimetry) for 1 hour in a thermoneutral incubator, during 1 hour of skin-to-skin care, and for another hour in the incubator. Mean values for the three periods were compared by analysis of variance.
Results: During skin-to-skin care the mean rectal temperature was 0.2 degree C (p < 0.01) and the peripheral skin temperature was 0.6 degree C (p < 0.01) higher than during the preceding hour in the incubator. Back in the incubator, body temperatures returned to values recorded before skin-to-skin care. Oxygen consumption during skin-to-skin care (6.1 +/- 0.9 ml/kg per minute) was not significantly higher than in the incubator (5.8 +/- 0.8 ml/kg per minute).
Conclusion: For stable preterm infants weighing less than 1500 gm and less than 1 week of age, 1 hour of skin-to-skin care is not a cold stress compared with care in a thermoneutral incubator.