All Things Neonatal Anniversary Edition

All Things Neonatal Anniversary Edition

It is hard to believe but All Things Neonatal is a year old.  When I started this little concept I had no idea what was to come but am delighted with where it has gone.  While the Blog site itself has about 200 followers, the Facebook page is home to nearly 4200 followers with twitter accounting for over 500 more.  What began as a forum for me to get some thoughts off my chest about neonatal topics or articles of interest has morphed into a place to create change.  As I look back over the last year I thought I would update the readers of this page and other social media platforms what the outcome has been for some of the ideas that I have brought forward.  We have implemented some of these suggestions into our own unit practices, so without further ado here are the updates for some (but not all!) of the changes we have introduced.

Expanding the Circle of Influence With Neonatal Telehealth March 4, 2015

Articles pertaining to use of Telehealth in all aspects of medicine are becoming commonplace.  w-450xq-95-Image01_34781466Locally we have seen expansion of rural sites that can connect with us and a strong desire by existing sites to connect via telehealth for a variety of reasons.  While the thrust of the program was to deliver advice to rural practitioners and support our level I and II units we have found such support leading to possibilities we had not dreamed of. Initial discussions via telehealth and in person have occurred examining whether such treatments as CPAP stabilization and NG feedings could be done in these sites.  Being able to provide such care will no doubt lead to more stable infants being transported to our site and moreover the possibility of moving the care for infants needing only gavage feeding back to their home communities.  Who knows what the future will hold for us as we also look forward to the hiring of a telehealth coordinator for NICU!

A Strategy to Minimize Blood Sampling in ventilated premature and term infants April 13, 2015 

This has been one of my favourite topics to write about.  The ability to sample CO2 from an area near the carina has been demonstrated to be accurate and to save pokes in the long run.  NM3_Heroshot_RGBSince writing this piece we have tried it on several babies by using a double lumen tube and found the results to be as accurate as described in the Israeli papers.  In practice though, secretions have proved difficult to handle for longer periods of use as they can travel up the sampling lines and damage the filters in the analyzers.  A costly issue to deal with that we are currently trying to solve.  Being able to continuously sample CO2 and adjust ventilation without drawing frequent blood gases is somewhat of a dream for me and we will continue to see how we can go about making this an established practice but there is work to be done!

Is it time to ban Cow’s Milk Protein from the diet of our high risk NICU population? June 12, 2015

I think most people in Winnipeg would say the answer is yes.  On this front two major positive changes have occurred in the last year in this regard.  Dont-drink-cows-milkThe first is that through a generous donation and the blessing of our health region we have been able to expand the use of donor breast milk from < 1250g for a two week period to < 1500g for a one month period.   This wonderful change came about after much effort and was celebrated in December as we not only expanded the eligibility criteria but partnered with the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank to provide donor milk to Manitobans (Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!).  The other change which the above post also spoke of was the potential to eliminate bovine milk altogether with the use of Prolacta (Human based human milk fortifier).  While we don’t have the approval to use the product as traditionally indicated, we have used it as a “rescue” for those patients who demonstrate a clear intolerance of bovine fortifier.  Such patients would traditionally receive inadequate nutrition with no other option available but now several have received such rescue and we look forward to analyzing the results of such a strategy shortly!

Winnipeg Hospital About to Start Resuscitating Infants at 23 weeks! September 25, 2015

Without question the most talked about change was the change in threshold for recommending resuscitation from 24 to 23 weeks.  2014-11-25-johnandJoyThe change took almost a year to roll out and could not have been done without a massive educational rollout that so many people (a special thank you to our nurse educators!) took part in.  Looking back on the year we have now seen several infants at 23 weeks who survived with a small minority dying in the newborn period.  It is too early to look at long term outcomes but I think many of us have been surprised with just how well many of these children have done.  Moreover I believe we may be seeing a “creep effect” at work as the outcomes of infants under 29 weeks have also improved as we developed new guidelines to provide the best care possible to these vulnerable infants.  Antenatal steroid use is up, IVH down and at least from January to September of last year no infants died at HSC under 29 weeks!  I look forward to seeing our results in the future and cannot tell you how impressed I am with how our entire team came together to make this all happen!

What’s Next?

I wanted to share some of the initiatives that came forward or were chronicled on these pages over the last year to show you that this forum is not just a place for my mind to aimlessly wander.  It is a place that can create change; some good, some great and no doubt some that won’t take.  It has also been a place where ideas are laid out that have come from afar.  From readers anywhere in the world who ask a question on one of the social media sites that get me thinking!  I have enjoyed the past year and expect I will continue to enjoy what may spring forth from these pages for some time to come.  Thank you for your contributions and I hope you get a little something out of this as well!


Building A Better Mask For PPV

Building A Better Mask For PPV

Ask almost anyone who has worked in the field of Neonatology for some time and they will tell you that babies are not as sick as they once were. We can give a lot of credit to better antenatal steroid use, maternal nutrition and general management during pregnancy.  Additionally, after birth we now rush to place infants on CPAP and achieve adequate expansion of the lungs which in many cases staves off intubation.

The downside to our success though is that the opportunities to provide positive pressure ventilation (PPV) and moreover intubation are becoming less and less.  How then do we perform when we are asked to do such procedures on an infrequent basis?  The answer as you might expect is not that well.  Dr. Schmolzer et al studied the ability of people to keep a good seal and found a 29% leak on average with as high as 63% in one patient.  As this was a study in which people were being observed one might think the Hawthorne Effect might artificially decrease the percentage leak compared to real world scenarios when you know you aren’t being watched.

What is the cause of the leak?

Leaks most commonly occur on either side of the nasolabial folds.  Although at least in my experience we educate trainees about this issue it remains a problem.  I would also speculate that at the times when we need to be at our best during an advanced resuscitation involving chest compressions we may well function at our worst.  This is the effect of the adrenalin rushing through our system as our sympathetic system turns into overdrive.  The question therefore is one of getting around human error in particular when we need to minimize such inefficiency the most.

The Solution?

If the masks are prone to leaking and with it the ability to properly ventilate compromised, how could we minimize such human error.  The answer may lie in what I consider to be an ingenious way to apply a mask. The concept and it is just that at the moment is to use suction to apply the mask to the face without risk of leak.  UntitledLorenz L et al have just published a proof of concept study utilizing a mannequin with a “seal skin” layer applied to the face to simulate human skin.  The article is entitled A new suction mask to reduce leak during neonatal resuscitation: a manikin study.

In this study, the mask was applied to the face of the mannequin and 100 cm H2O pressure was applied through a side port on the mask.  There is an inner and outer ring such that the internal 41 mm diameter mask is surrounded by a double wall in which the suction is applied to the space between the two walls leading to the mask seating itself firmly against the face.  The authors then studied the amount of leak found when using a Neopuff set to deliver 40 – 60 breaths per minute at pressures of 25/5.  For this study 60 courses were tested.

How did it do compared to PPV through a traditional mask?

As you might expect (since you can feel my excitement!) it did very well. The average leaks using a conventional approach were quite good at 12.1% but the suction mask was only 0.7% leak.  Importantly the ranges were quite different.   PPV through a conventional mask had a range of 0.6 – 39% leak while with the suction version it was 0.2 – 4.6%.  These results were statistically different.

What does the future hold?

As mentioned this study is what one would consider a proof of concept study.  We do not know how this would fare in the real world and that of course is the next step.  In terms of harm, the authors did note that when applied to the forearm of an adult it caused some mild redness from the suction that vanished quickly on breaking of the seal but we do not know if there could be greater harm in a newborn in particular one who is quite small.  Such testing will be needed as part of any further study.

Having said that I think this rethink of the mask for PPV could be transformative to those who perform neonatal resuscitation infrequently.  If this mask is found not only to be effective in a clinical trial but safe as well I would suggest a change to this type of mask could quite literally be life saving.  Placed in the hands of those who are inexperienced in keeping a seal, PPV would become much more effective and in particular for rural sites the infants being transported in much more stable than some are at present.

Keep your eyes peeled for future work using this mask.  Something tells me if it proves to be efficacious outside of a seal skin covered mannequin, your toolkit for providing NRP may be in for a change.

Non-sterile gloves to reduce NICU infections. Back to the Future?

Non-sterile gloves to reduce NICU infections. Back to the Future?

I don’t know about you but I have deeply rooted memories from the 1990s of donning a yellow gown and gloves before examining each and every patient on my list before rounds.  This was done as we firmly believed such precautions were needed to prevent the spread of infections in the NICU.  As time went on though the gowns were removed and not long after so went the gloves as priority was placed on performance of good hand hygiene to reduce rates of infection in our units.

You can imagine that after having it entrenched in my mind that hand hygiene was the key to success that I would find it surprising to see a paper published a few months ago suggesting that the use of gloves after hand hygiene may offer a benefit after all.  Kaufman DA et al published Nonsterile glove use in addition to hand hygiene to prevent late-onset infection in preterm infants: randomized clinical trial and given it’s challenge to a practice that is at least two decades old I thought it may be worth sharing with you the reader.

Essentially the authors hypothesized that the use of non-sterile gloves after performing hand hygiene (compared to hand hygiene alone) would reduce late-onset invasive infection (>72 hours after birth), defined as 1 or more episodes per patient of a BSI, urinary tract infection,meningitis, and/orNEC associated with clinical signs and symptoms of infection and treated with antimicrobials.  When determining the size of study needed, they used a baseline incidence of 60% and looked to find a 25% reduction in their outcome.  Unfortunately for them (although very fortunate for their patients, the incidence of LOS in the experimental arm was 32% with a 45% incidence in the control group (hand hygiene alone).  What does this mean when your expected rate is higher than your observed?  In short you need more patients to show a difference and indeed they failed to show a significant difference between the two groups. They did however find a difference in gram positive infections being 15 vs 32% p=0.03 and seem to take some comfort in this finding.  If you were to give the paper a quick read you might be impressed with the finding and might even shrug your shoulders and say the common expression “Can’t hurt but might help”  Maybe we should adopt this?

Not so Fast

There is a significant potential source of error here that needs to be addressed.  The definition of a proven blood stream infection as per the CDC is two positive cultures for the same organism.  In this study only one culture was required to be positive so the potential for diagnostic error is high.  In our own centre although unpublished we have noted since adopting a mandatory two culture collection approach for LOS that there have been a significant number of occasions where one culture was noted to be positive and the other negative.  Antibiotics in these cases have been stopped (for gram positive organisms) after 48 hours without consequence.  In this study however the findings of increased rates of positive cultures in the hand hygiene only group is heavily influenced by the presence of only one positive culture as is seen in this table.

table 1

When looking at the numbers of times there were greater than or equal to 2 positive cultures in the CoNS group one sees the vast majority were only based on one culture.  Furthermore, of the 20 infections in the hand hygiene only group, 19 were gram positve CoNS of which only 4 had more than one culture.  Based on this finding and the lack of any other significant difference in infectious outcomes the proof that gloves add anything to reducing infection rates is tough to argue.

Could Gloves Actually Make Things Worse?

Several studies have actually indicated that wearing gloves reduces hand hygiene compliance.  One such study although in adults “The dirty hand in the latex glove”: a study of hand hygiene compliance when gloves are worn. suggests that this is indeed the case with a 9% decrease in proper hand hygiene when gloves were worn.  Others such as Flores in 2006 found similar poor perfomance when gloves were used Healthcare workers’ compliance with glove use and the effect of glove use on hand hygiene.  I would speculate that although we all want to do what is best for our patients there may be a psychological trick being played here.  Perhaps knowing we will cover up with gloves leads people to take shortcuts on hand hygiene as they subconciously think they will be covered anyway.  Never mind that the “dirty” hand touches the gloves they will put on making proper hand hygiene a must.


It certainly was a shock to see such a paper as I saw flashes of my past yellow gowned self coming back to haunt me.  Based on my take of this paper however I would say that at least for the time being I will take my time, wash my hands before and after every patient encounter and keep the gloves around for handling those yet unbathed newborns.  Spend your energy where it counts and that is ensuring your hands are properly cleaned before touching your patient or lines.


The Eyes Have It or Do They

The Eyes Have It or Do They

Every now and then I come across an instance when I discover that something that I have known for some time truly is not as well appreciated as I might think.

Twice in my career I have come across the following situation which has been generalized to eliminate any specific details about a patient.  In essence this is a fictional story but the conclusions are quite real.

Case of the Flat Baby

A mother arrives at the hospital with severe abdominal pain and in short order is diagnosed with a likely abruption at 26 weeks gestational age. Fetal monitors are attached and reveal a significant fetal bradycardia with a prolonged period of minutes below 100 and sometimes below 60 beats per minute.  She is rushed to the OR where an emergency c-section is performed.

A live born infant is handed to the resuscitation team after cord clamping is stopped at 30 seconds due to significant cyanosis and no respirations.  After placing the infant in a polyethylene wrap and performing the initial steps of ventilation there is no respiratory effort and the baby is given PPV.  After no heart rate is noted chest compressions commence followed by intubation and then epinephrine when a heart rate while detected remains below 60.  The team gives a bolus of saline followed by another round of epinephrine and by 10 minutes a pulse of 80 BPM is detected.  While a pulse is present it remains borderline and the baby shows no sign of any respiratory efforts.

The care providers at this point have a decision to make about continuing resuscitative efforts or not.  One of the team members performs a physical exam at this stage and notes that the pupils are unresponsive to light with a 3 mm pupillary diameter.  The team questions whether based on this finding irreversible neurological damage has occurred.

Pupillary Reactions in Preterm Infants

It turns out that much like many organs in the body which have yet to fully mature the same applies to the eye or more specifically in this case the pupil. Robinson studied 50 preterm infants in 1990 and noted that none of the infants under 30 weeks gestational age demonstrated any reaction to light shone in the eye.  After 30 weeks the infants gradually realized this function until by 35 weeks all infants had attained this pupillary reaction to light.


Isenberg in the same year when examining 30 preterm infants under 30 weeks noted that in addition to the lack of pupillary constriction to light, as the gestational age decreased the pupillary diameter enlarged.  The youngest infants in this study at 26 weeks had a mean pupillary diameter of 4.7 mm while by 29 weeks this number decreased to 2.9 mm.  This means that the smaller the infant the larger the pupillary size and given that these are also the highest risk infants one can see how the appearance of a “fixed and dilated pupil” could lead one down the wrong path.


Deciding when to stop a resuscitation is never an easy decision.  Add to this as I recently wrote, even after 10 minutes of resuscitation outcomes may not be as bad as we have thought; Apgar score of 0 at 10 minutes: Why the new NRP recommendations missed the mark.  What I can say and obviously was the main thrust of this piece is that at least when you are resuscitating an infant  < 30 weeks gestational age, leave the eyes out of the decision.  The eyes in this case “do not have it”.



When it comes to phototherapy, more is less!

When it comes to phototherapy, more is less!

I have been mulling over this piece for some time.  In my own practice I have long questioned the role for standard phototherapy (the equivalent of a single light source) vs intensive phototherapy (delivering >30 microwatts/cm2/nm and usually two light sources) when treating jaundice for all patients. I have bolded that last part to emphasize that I am not just talking about newborns with severe hyperbilirubinemia but rather all infants with treatable jaundice based on local treatment curves such as shown in the CPS and AAP statements.  hyperbilirubinemia_newborn_fig2

When newborns are only 30 – 50 micromol/L above the treatment threshold as an example, I will see standard phototherapy ordered or after initiating treatment with intensive phototherapy as the level approaches no treatment required you will see people switch to standard phototherapy again.  Why is that and does it make sense?

The rationale for using less intensive phototherapy has been to minimize side effects.  Historically, these were retinal damage (hence the eye covers), electrolyte disturbances, increased insensible water loss and occasionally rashes.  I use the word historically as they for the most part are no longer relevant today provided a narrow spectrum LED light source is utilized which is the technology used in most modern phototherapy light sources now.  Backing up this claim, in 2008 Dr. Maisels, showed that in preterm infants receiving LED based light there were no increases in transepidermal water loss.  By limiting the wavelength of light emitted to 430  – 490 nm and avoiding the infrared wavelengths.  Whether the concern exists with respect to retinal effects is tough to say for sure so continued precautions with eye covers are recommended.

Go Big or Go Home

If there is little harm to phototherapy then is there a reason to use more?  The effectiveness of phototherapy is generally based on three things.  The first is the proximity of the light source to the patient (< 15 cm is ideal), the second is the intensity of the lamp and the third is the surface area covered.  If you are using a single focused spot and covering only 15- 20% of the body you are missing out on a lot of skin that could be helping to lower an infants bilirubin more rapidly.  As I see it, if there is little harm in giving phototherapy and the rate of bilirubin decline is faster with better phototherapy, why would you use anything less than intensive using two light sources?  Also from a developmental care point of view, less time under the lights means more time for skin to skin and that is always a good thing.

Phototherapy and DNA damage

What prompted me to write this piece actually was the following paper Jaundice, phototherapy and DNA damage in full-term neonates by Ramy N et al from November of 2015.    In this paper the authors used a validated measure of DNA damage and assessed infants both before and after phototherapy.  Thirty six newborns with jaundice were compared to 30 controls.  The results are shown in the following figure.


Figure B demonstrates that prior to initiation of phototherapy the extent of DNA damage in tested cells is no different whether you are jaundiced or not.  In essence bilirubin is not toxic to cells which also makes sense knowing that bilirubin has antioxidant properties and hence one would think it might be protective against DNA damage.  It is figure C and D that provide the most interesting information.  Figure C demonstrates that phototherapy (conventional and intensive groups combined) leads to an increase in DNA damage.  Figure D is important in that it illustrates that comparing conventional and intensive phototherapy groups there is no difference in rates of DNA damage.  This would indicate that more intensive phototherapy is not hazardous to cells.

What was noted in the end though is what is most important here.  As expected the duration of phototherapy differed between the two strategies.  Infants in the conventional group were under lights for 62.2 ± 23.02 hrs vs 41.3 ± 22.9 hrs, P = 0.005 in the intensive group.  When the authors analyzed the relationship between DNA damage and length of phototherapy there was a statistically significant relationship between the two.

In summary then

  1. Intensive phototherapy is more effective than conventional at reducing levels of jaundice
  2. Phototherapy is associated with minimal clinical side effects whether intensive or conventional.
  3. Infants receiving conventional phototherapy require longer courses of treatment.
  4. Longer courses are associated with greater levels of DNA damage.
  5. The significance of this DNA damage is unknown based on this study but in principal avoiding such injury may be a wise thing to do.

One last benefit – less needle pokes and shorter lengths of stay!

If an infant spends an average of one less day under phototherapy lights do not underestimate the added benefit with respect to avoiding needle pokes.  Typically such infants receive one poke a day to “check how the decline is going”.  Shortening the course of phototherapy may translate into one or two less pokes or more and that is definitely a good thing!

Lastly I will leave you with a tip from my own practice which I have found very useful to eliminate at least one poke.  When phototherapy is effective and the bilirubin is coming down (and is close to the threshold for stopping but not quite there yet) it is common for people on rounds to order another bilirubin for the morning and continue phototherapy until that result.  The result comes back the following morning and the practitioner orders a follow-up bilirubin  for the following day to check for the “rebound”.

An alternative strategy is to keep the infant on phototherapy overnight and rather than checking on the bilirubin in the morning just stop the phototherapy on rounds.  Eight hours later check the bilirubin and if it is below the threshold for treatment send the infant home.  You avoid an overnight stay and instead of poking twice in two days do it all in one.

Whether you take this advice or not is up to you but if all that comes from this post is a decrease in the general fear of intensive phototherapy I may have gotten somewhere and the DNA of many babies out there will thank you!