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How Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Head Cooling Works

  • Q: Why is there a need for head cooling and how does it work?

    Most of the babies that we head cool initially have a problem during labor and delivery where they don’t get enough oxygen or blood flow to the brain. When they’re born we provide critical support including placing them on a ventilator to breathe and giving them intravenous fluid and nutrition because they can’t eat right at the beginning.

    So, sometimes this happens because the placenta (afterbirth) separates from the uterus too soon, or there’s an infection in the uterus, or the uterus ruptures. Sometimes the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. So babies have this initial damage from that event. After this, the brain tries to heal itself, but over the next several hours lots more brain cells die.

    When we cool down the brain many of the brain cells that would have died stay alive. The theory is that the cooling basically makes the brain cells go to rest. So after 72 hours of cooling, the brain cells wake up, and they survive, and long-term neurodevelopment is improved.

  • Q: What does head cooling mean to my baby?

    When there is brain injury that is detected around the time of birth, we want to give the babies the best chance of a good outcome, so we want to prevent further injury by cooling the baby’s head.

  • Q: What does the cooling cap look like?

    There are two important pieces to head cooling. First, there’s a plastic cooling cap, which has a bunch of tubes that circulates really cold water around it. This makes the scalp very cold and the underlying brain very cold. The second piece is the freestanding cooling device (the machine itself). Cold water is circulated around the scalp and then cools down the brain.

  • Q: Once you take my baby for head cooling, will I be able to see him/her?

    You’ll always be able to see and touch your baby during the 72-hour cooling period. Your baby is not going to move around very much because of medicines we are providing. You may have to wait after cooling is completed to hold your baby.

Arkansas Children's Hospital
1 Children's Way
Little Rock, AR 72202-3591

Call: 501-364-1100
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