Decreasing Electromagnetic Fields in Neonatal Incubators To Support Premature Babies Health
Electromagnetic fields within neonatal incubators have been shown to have adverse effects on newborns. Research has found that equipment in the NICU creates low-frequency electromagnetic fields “that can have subtle yet measurable effects on the autonomic nervous system” and preterm infants are especially vulnerable to these effects. A study that looked at 26 preterm infants from the NICU at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center measured the environmental electromagnetic levels in and around incubators. Then, the researchers electrically grounded the babies to reduce the exposures. They found that the babies autonomic nervous system “is able to sense the electrical environment” and the babies were more relaxed when they were grounded.
In 2017 Bellieni and colleagues carried out a review of the current research on electromagnetic fields in neonatal incubators, and concluded, “…future incubators should be conceived following better criteria about EMF emissions, redesigning the incubator components” (Bellieni et al., 2017). Earlier publications by Bellieni and colleagues report similar findings including changes in melatonin production and altered heart rate variability. Due to the vulnerability of newborn babies, preventative and prudent measured should be taken against exposure to electromagnetic fields.
See news articles and research studies below.
Solovey, Matthew. “‘Grounding protects preemies from electrical fields.” Futurity (8 August 2017).
“Incubator fields affect baby’s heart rate.” ABC Science (2 May 2008).
“Incubator Electromagnetic Fields Alter Newborns’ Heart Rates.” Newswise (29 April 2008).
“Incubator Electromagnetic Fields Alter Newborns’ Heart Rates.” Science Daily (May 02 2008).
Sanderson, Katharine. “Incubators seen to change babies’ heartbeats.” Nature (1 May 2008).
Bellieni, Carlo Valerio, et al. “Electromagnetic fields in neonatal incubators: the reasons for an alert.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine (2017): 1-11.
- “We retrieved 15 papers that described the EMF exposure in incubators and their biological effects on babies. EMF levels in incubators appear to be between 2 and 100 mG, depending on the distance of the mattress from the electric engine. In some cases they exceed this range. These values interfere with melatonin production or with vagal tone. Even caregivers are exposed to high EMF, above 200 mG, when working at close contact with the incubators.”
- “A precautionary approach should be adopted in future incubator design, to prevent high exposures of newborns in incubators and of caregivers as well.”
Passi, R., et al. “Electrical Grounding Improves Vagal Tone in Preterm Infants.” Neonatology 112 (2017): 187-192.
- “We aimed to measure the electric field strengths in the NICU environment and to determine if connecting an infant to electrical ground would reduce the skin potential and improve VT.”
- “The background MFD in the NICU was below 0.5 mG, but it ranged between 1.5 and 12.7 mG in the closed incubator. A 60-Hz oscillating potential was recorded on the skin of all infants. With EG, the skin voltage dropped by about 95%. Pre-grounding VT was inversely correlated with the skin potential. VT increased by 67% with EG. After grounding, the VT fell to the pre-grounding level.
- “The electrical environment affects autonomic balance. EG improves VT and may improve resilience to stress and lower the risk of neonatal morbidity in preterm infants.”
Bellieni, Carlo V., and Iole Pinto (a). “Fetal and neonatal effects of EMF.” Bioinitiative 2012, Section 19 (2012).
- “This chapter documents some studies on RF and ELF-EMF that report bioeffects and adverse health impacts to the fetus, and young child where exposure levels are still well within the current legal limits of many nations.”
Bellieni, Carlo Valerio, et al (b). “Is newborn melatonin production influenced by magnetic fields produced by incubators?.” Early Human Development 88.8 (2012): 707-710.
- Researchers aimed “to assess melatonin production in a group of newborns exposed to EMF, and to evaluate whether removing the babies from the source of MF can affect melatonin production.”
- “The transitory increase in melatonin production soon after removing newborns from incubators demonstrates a possible influence of EMF on melatonin production in newborns.”
Bellieni, C. V., et al. “Electromagnetic fields produced by incubators influence heart rate variability in newborns.” Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition 93.4 (2008): F298-F301.
- “EMFs produced by incubators influence newborns’ heart rate variability (HRV), showing an influence on their autonomous nervous system.”
Bellieni, C. V., et al. “Reduction of exposure of newborns and caregivers to very high electromagnetic fields produced by incubators.” Medical Physics 32.1 (2005): 149-152.
- “The aims of this paper is to measure whether ferromagnetic panels sufficiently reduce the high electromagnetic fields (EMF) to which newborns are exposed in incubators and to which caregivers are exposed when working near the incubators.”
- “EMF values measured in incubators were higher than those to which the general population is exposed. The use of ferromagnetic panels significantly reduces the level of EMFs to which neonates and caregivers are exposed.”
Riminesi, Cristiano, et al. “ELF magnetic field exposure in a neonatal intensive care unit.” Bioelectromagnetics 25.7 (2004): 481-491.
- “In this paper, the magnetic flux density (MFD) distribution in a neonatal intensive care unit is described and MFD values inside a few open infant warming systems and incubators are reported.”
- “Typical measured values of the magnetic flux density at power frequency (50 Hz) in the “general environment” (the rooms of the unit) were lower than 0.2 μT, while higher MFD values were detected close to medical equipment and inside the open infant warming systems. In both cases, the magnetic flux density quickly decreases with increasing distance, so that measured values are reduced to “background” (i.e., general environment) levels 20–30 cm away from the sources.”
Bellieni, C. V., et al. “Increasing the engine-mattress distance in neonatal incubators: a way to decrease exposure of infants to electromagnetic fields.” ITALIAN JOURNAL OF PEDIATRICS 29.1 (2003): 74-80.
- “We found very high electromagnetic field values: up to 88.4 mG in common incubators and up to 357.0 mG in transport incubators. Values highly diminished by increasing the distance from the engine. Conclusions. The electromagnetic field values measured in incubators were much higher than those to which the general population is exposed and above occupational safety levels. Premature babies are exposed to these extremely high levels for months during a very sensitive period of their development. Electromagnetic fields are reported to interfere with behavioral, endocrine and cardiac patterns and are reported to be correlated with carcinogenesis. Further research is needed to devise equipments that reduce the exposure of premature infants to these emissions. A first step could be to increase the bed-engine distance in incubators.”
ČERMÁKOVÁ, ELEONORA. “Study of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields in infant incubators.” International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 16.3 (2003): 215-220.
- “The results of many repeated measurements showing the values of magnetic flux density in modern incubators with plastic supporting frame, were compared with those obtained in old type incubators with iron skeleton. A power frequency of 50 Hz was detected in the incubator and the ELF EMF values were by over two orders lower than the EU reference values.”
- “The paper emphasizes the need to take a special care of newborns kept in incubators even if only the sub-reference values are detected. The EU reference values are intended for the adult human population. A baby in an incubator has much smaller dimensions, higher electric conductivity and maybe trigger another mechanism of response to ELF EMF than that indicated in this paper.”
Ramstad, S., et al. “Infants In An Intensive Care Unit-The Electromagnetic Field Environment.” HK J Paediatr (New Series) 3.1 (1998): 15-20.
- “The biological significance of exposure of immature and sick newborn infants to increased levels of low frequency electromagnetic fields is not known. Of all the relevant risk factors that can affect these infants future lives, exposure to such fields is probably of lesser importance. However, until more knowledge has been obtained on the biological effects of low frequency electromagnetic fields, a reduction of these fields should be recommended, as part of a prudent avoidance strategy.”
Aasen, Svein Erik, et al. “Fifty-Hertz magnetic field exposures of premature infants in a neonatal intensive care unit.” Neonatology 70.5 (1996): 249-264.
- “In this study the magnetic flux density in and around incubators of a neonatal intensive care unit was registered and mapped.”
- “The flux density values found were fairly low as compared to magnetic field levels present at some work places where high electric currents are used. In intensive care units, however, the duration of exposure can be very long, especially for premature infants. The fields can also be compared with the magnetic field levels of residences and are then approximately 100 times higher.”
- “Compared to the risks many of these infants are exposed to, it is difficult to say whether the magnetic field levels measured can represent a significant additional risk factor. However, this is an area where one should adopt a prudent avoidance strategy, particularly considering how easily these fields can be reduced, mainly through redesign of the various equipment.”
Bearer, C.F. “Electromagnetic fields and infant incubators.” Archives of Environmental Health 49.5 (1994) 352-354.
- “Two models of infant incubators were studied to determine the strength of the magnetic field generated by the heater and fan motors. Measurements were taken at intervals along the center line of the incubator. The results show that fields greater than 100 milligauss and 25 milligauss were measured in the C-86 and C-100 model Isolettes, respectively.”