Newborns’ heart rates altered by incubator electromagnetic fields
18 May 2008
The electromagnetic fields produced by incubators alter newborns’
heart rates, reveals a study conducted at the University of Sienna,
Italy and published in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition of
Archives of Disease in Childhood.
It is not clear what the long term effects might be, but this could
have implications for babies born prematurely, who may spend several
weeks or months in incubators, say the authors.
The research team assessed the variability in the heart rate of 43
newborn babies, none of whom was critically ill or premature.
The heart rates of 27 of these babies were assessed over three
periods of five minutes each, during which the incubator motor was left
running, then switched off, then left running again.
To see if noise might be a factor, because incubators are noisy, 16
newborns were exposed to “background noise,” by placing a tape beside
the baby’s head, while the incubator motor was switched off.
The tape recording, which reproduced the sound of the incubator fan,
was played for five minutes, paused for five minutes, and then played
again for five minutes.
There were no differences in heart rate variability in the tape
recorded babies. But there were significant differences in the heart
rate variability of babies in the incubators.
The heart rate variability fell significantly during the periods when
the incubator was switched on. Decreased heart rate variability is a
strong predictor of a poor prognosis in adult patients with heart
disease and the general population, the evidence shows.
Heart rate variability is made up of low and high frequency
components, and the ratio between the two is higher in premature babies
than it is in adults.
The authors suggest that this may be influenced by the powerful
electromagnetic fields created by incubators.
They conclude that modifications to the design of incubators could
help, but they add that as yet it is unclear what long term consequences
there may be of exposure to electromagnetic fields at such a tender age.
“International recommendations and laws set levels to safeguard the
health of workers exposed to electromagnetic fields: newborns should be
worthy of similar protection,” they say.
Contact: Dr Carlo Bellieni, Department of Paediatrics, Obstetrics,
and Reproductive Medicine, University of Siena, Siena, Italy. Tel: +39
(0) 347 357 45 66 (mobile) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
C V Bellieni, M Acampa, M Maffei, S Maffei, S Perrone, I Pinto, N
Stacchini, G Buonocore. Electromagnetic fields produced by incubators
influence heart rate variability in newborns. Arch Dis Child Fetal
Neonatal Ed 2008; doi 10.1136/adc.2007.132738. Full paper is