Temperature control or thermoregulation in the neonate is a critical physiological function that is strongly influenced by physical immaturity, the extent of illness and environmental factors.
The neonate´s susceptibility to temperature instability needs to be recognised and understood in order to appropriately manage and limit the effects of cold or heat stress.
It is essential that neonates are nursed within their ´neutral thermal environment´(NTE). This is defined as ´the environmental air temperature at which an infant with a normal body temperature has a minimal metabolic rate and therefore minimal oxygen consumption´. The maintenance of the NTE is the ultimate aim of neonatal temperature control and management.
Extended periods of cold stress can lead to harmful side effects which include hypoglycaemia, respiratory distress, hypoxia, metabolic acidosis, necrotizing enterocolitis and failure to gain weight state preventing hypothermia is important to survival and long-term outcome in neonates.
Factors that increase the risk of hypothermia include prematurity, intrauterine growth retardation, birth asphyxia, congenital anomalies such as gastroschisis and damage to the central nervous system.