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The letter of Hawkes et al1 raises the important issues of swaddling and temperature on admission to the neonatal unit. Besch et al2 carried out a limited comparison of different swaddling materials and found a transparent plastic bag together with radiant heat to be effective in preventing heat loss in infants over 2 kg. Following a report in the literature,3 we have begun wrapping all preterm infants < 1000 g in a thin plastic wrap. The wrap is preheated on a radiant warmer and the infant is immediately placed (undried) on the plastic sheet, which is folded over to completely (but loosely) enclose the torso and extremities from the neck down. The infant is left in the wrap until transported to the neonatal unit and the temperature has stabilised in a humidified environment. The median temperature of the 19 < 1000 g infants admitted since wrapping was commenced was 36.7°C on arrival to the nursery compared with 35.5°C for the previous 86 unwrapped infants (p = 0.002; using Mann-Whitney U test). There were no significant differences in birth weight, gestational age or Apgar scores between the groups.
Although our experience is in smaller preterm infants (who are more prone to hypothermia), our results are in keeping with those of Vohra et al, who studied infants < 32 weeks.3 We now plan to wrap all preterm infants < 1500 g.
The plastic wrap is likely to be more effective than towels because of reduction in evaporative heat loss and because it allows observation of the infant. However, the plastic wrap is unlikely to significantly reduce radiant heat loss, so an additional heat source is essential for preterm infants. Some form of head swaddling is also important and needs further study. Aluminum foil may reduce evaporative, convective, and radiant heat loss but does not allow observation or radiant warming.
It appears there are many aspects of swaddling that require further investigation.