The Incubator: What Is It and How Does It Work?

The Incubator: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Last update: 26 August, 2018

Everyone has seen an incubator at some point in their lives and knows, more or less, how they work. It is a machine that has considerably reduced the cases of infant mortality, especially in developing countries.

In this article we’ll explain in detail how exactly this life-saving device works and what it actually does.

An incubator is a closed chamber that provides an environment which is conducive to the growth of premature or newborn babies. Made of transparent material, it has padding to keep the baby comfortable, and has air intakes and windows.

It also has monitoring systems that allow doctors to see the baby’s weight, heart rate and brain activity in real time. It shows the readings and reactions of the baby’s body on a minute-by-minute basis.

Functions of the incubator

Incubators must have certain characteristics to effectively fulfill their main functions, which are:

  • Servocontrol. This is a sensor that attaches onto a baby’s skin, in order to measure their skin temperature. If it’s low, the incubator automatically emits heat. If it’s high, it does the opposite.
  • Isolation. One of the essential tasks of these devices. The air filters take away the germs and allergens in the outside world. This is a vital function for babies with immune system problems.
  • Humidity sensors. In the same way that the temperature is controlled, the appliance also measures the humidity. If there is very little, then a baby could get dehydrated.
  • Oxygen source. The incubator offers an environment with a high oxygen content, with the aim of preventing respiratory diseases in newborns.
  • Assisted breathing. In severe cases where babies cannot breathe on their own, they are incubated and a pump helps them to breathe artificially.
  • UV rays. The ultraviolet light in the incubator, which is administered in moderate amounts, helps to activate endogenous vitamin D and to combat jaundice, which is the yellowish color seen in the skin of some newborn babies.

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should carry on”

When is the baby placed in the incubator?

As we mentioned earlier, the incubator provides all the necessary functions to monitor how a newborn baby is progressing. It also allows doctors to isolate it from the threats of the outside world which can cause complications in such small, and often defenseless, babies.

The most common cases in which doctors would place the baby in an incubator are the following:

  • In premature babies: a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. There can be several reasons for this, such as high blood pressure in the mother or complications in the final phase of pregnancy. The incubator allows doctors to protect them until they develop properly.
  • Low birth weight: babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth are considered underweight. It doesn’t matter whether the birth has gone its full term, or whether they are premature. The incubator is responsible for protecting the baby while giving them orally, or via infusion, the nutrients their body needs.
  • Difficulties in maintaining their correct temperature. An incubator has a constant temperature, and so it helps to counteract this deficiency.
  • Deficiencies in the immune system. Until they develop the capacity of self-defense against pathogens, babies – usually premature babies – can enjoy an environment free of germs and microbes that could be a threat to their health.

However, other circumstances may also arise that make this incubation period necessary:

  • Bone fragility or muscle weakness.
  • Lack of maturity of the lungs.
  • Deficit of sensorineural development.
  • Absence of the suction reflex, which prevents him from feeding on his own.

What to do if my baby is in the incubator?

First of all, parents should know that when babies are in an incubator, they are very well taken care of. There is constant monitoring, the incubator fully meets their needs, and so there is no need for concern.

In addition to this, the fact that your baby needs a few days of incubation doesn’t mean that his or her health is at risk. Quite often, incubation is used as a period of “adaptation to the world.” Once the baby has developed correctly, he can return to normal life.

Finally, the visiting hours depend on the hospital and also on the health situation of each individual baby. The ​​neonatology area is usually a very restricted area, and there are minimal visiting hours.

Try to stay calm and be patient. You’ll soon be able to take your child home and enjoy a completely normal life with him or her.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.