At 22 weeks of gestation does your faith matter most to outcome?

At 22 weeks of gestation does your faith matter most to outcome?

Recent statements by the American Academy of Pediatric’s, NICHD, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), and recommend selective approaches to mothers presenting between 22 0/7 to 22 6/7 weeks. The decision to provide antenatal steroids is only recommended if delivery is expected after 23 weeks. Furthermore the decision to resuscitate is based on an examination of a number of factors including a shared decision with the family. In practice this leads to those centres believing this is mostly futile generally not resuscitating or offering steroids while other more optimistic hospitals having higher rates of proactive (steroids and resuscitation) rates. Then there are other centres where the standard approach is proactive such as one in Uppsala, Sweden where this approach is used almost exclusively.

What would happen then if one compared the outcome for infants born at 22 weeks between this hospital and another where a selective approach is generally offered. In this case you would have a lot of experience with resuscitating infants at 22 weeks and the other a fraction of all presenting as a few to many would receive compassionate care. This is exactly what has now happened.

A Tale of Two Cities

The University Children’s Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden has been compared retrospectively to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, USA (NCH) with respect to survival and outcomes for their infants born at 22 weeks. The paper by Backes CH et al entitled Outcomes following a comprehensive versus a selective approach for infants born at 22 weeks of gestation tells a very interesting story about the power of belief or faith that one can accomplish something if they set their mind to it.

The authors examined a period from 2006-2015, dividing this time into two epochs with the first being 2006-2010 to account for differing practices and resources over time. Given that Uppsala took a proactive approach to all of their 40 live born infants during this time, it provided an opportunity to look at the 72 infants who were live born in the Ohio and examine their differences. In Ohio the approach was as follows; 16 (22%) received proactive care, 18 (25%) received inconsistent care (steroids but no resuscitation), and 38 (53%) received comfort care. In other words, although the total number of infants live born in Ohio was almost double that of Uppsala, only 16 were proactively treated in Ohio compared to all 40 in Uppsala.

The differences in outcome are striking

Survival in delivery room: (38/40, 95% vs 12/16, 75%; P = 0.049)

Provision of delivery room surfactant: (40/40, 100% vs 9/16, 56%; P<0.01)

Survival at 24 h (37/40, 93% vs. 9/16, 56%; P < 0.01).

Survival to 1 year (21/40, 53% vs. 3/16, 19%; P < 0.05).

Among the infants treated proactively, median age of death (17 postnatal days at range 0 h–226 days vs. 3 postnatal hours at NCH, range 0 h–10 days; P < 0.01).

All surviving infants had BPD All infants surviving to initial hospital discharge were alive at 18 months’ postnatal age.

With respect to long term outcome the authors note:

“Outpatient follow-up (qualitative or non-qualitative neurodevelopmental testing) was available in 26 out of 27 infants (96%) Eleven of the 26 (42%) were unimpaired, and all unimpaired infants were in the UUCH cohort. Among the 15 infants with impairment at UUCH, 3 had mild impairment and 12 had moderate or severe impairment. All surviving infants at NCH had moderate or severe impairment.”

A word about antenatal steroids as well. In Uppsala 85% of mothers received 2 doses of antenatal steroids vs 25% in Ohio. People sometimes question whether ANS at this age are effective. It is interesting to note that 44% of babies in the Ohio group vs 3% p<0.01 received chest compressions +/- epinephrine in the delivery room. Might this explain the better state of some of these infants at birth?

The Power of Belief

When I do rounds I often remark that try as we might we can’t will babies to do better. I also commonly say however that we need to be optimistic and although I am accused of seeing the world through rose coloured glasses I think there is an important lesson to be learned from this study. This comparison is really a contrast between a system that believes they can do a good thing for these families by actively promoting a proactive approach vs a system in which I imagine a reluctant approach exists even for those infants where a proactive plan is enacted. One sign of this might be that in Sweden 100% of these deliveries had a Neonatologist present vs 75% in the US. It could be due to other factors such as ability of the Neo to get in within time of the delivery however rather than a sign they didn’t feel they were needed due to futility.

There is evidence as well that the aggressiveness of the proactive approach also differs between the two sites based on a couple observations. The first is the rate of surfactant provision in the delivery room which was 100% in Sweden but only 56% in the US. The other thing of note is the time of death for those who did not survive. The median time of death in the US was 3 hours vs 17 days in Uppsala. What does this tell us about the approaches? I would imagine (although the numbers are small) that the teams in the US were much more likely to lose hope (or faith) and withdraw early while the other centre possibility motivated by their past successes pushed forward.

Remarkably, although one might think that the teams in Uppsala were simply creating significantly impaired survivors, 42% of the survivors were unimpaired from a developmental standpoint in follow-up. All surviving infants though from Ohio had moderate to severe impairment.

What this story may also really be about is practice. The reality is that the team in Sweden had over twice the exposure to such infants over time. Although the number presenting at this GA was higher, the ones that actually were resuscitated and given steroids was less than half. One cannot take away though that Uppsala in the end demonstrated that a proactive approach is definitely not futile. Not only can these children survive but almost half will be developmentally intact.

We must acknowledge as well though that since this is a retrospective study there may be factors that may have affected the results. As the saying goes “Individual results may vary”. Are the teams the same in both centres in terms of number of Neonatologists? Are there more residents caring for these infants vs fellows? Are the resources the same? What about proximity of the Neonatologist to the hospital? There are other factors such as cohesiveness of the team and communication between team members that may be influencing the results.

In the end though, this is a story of a team that believed it could and did. Perhaps seeing the world through rose coloured glasses is not such a bad thing in the end.

Does size really matter when weaning from an incubator?

Does size really matter when weaning from an incubator?

Look around an NICU and you will see many infants living in incubators. All will eventually graduate to a bassinet or crib but the question always is when should that happen? The decision is usually left to nursing but I find myself often asking if a baby can be taken out. My motivation is fairly simple. Parents can more easily see and interact with their baby when they are out of the incubator. Removing the sense of “don’t touch” that exists for babies in the incubators might have the psychological benefit of encouraging more breastfeeding and kangaroo care. Both good things.

Making the leap

For ELBW and VLBW infants humidity is required then of course they need this climate controlled environment. Typically once this is no longer needed units will generally try infants out of the incubator when the temperature in the “house” is reduced to 28 degrees. Still though, it is not uncommon to hear that an infant is “too small”. Where is the threshold though that defines being too small? Past research studies have looked at two points of 1600 vs 1800g for the smallest of infants. One of these studies was a Cochrane review by New K, Flenady V, Davies MW. Transfer of preterm infants for incubator to open cot at lower versus higher body weight. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011;(9). This concluded that early transition was safe for former ELBWs at the 1600g weight cut off.

What about the majority of our babies?

While the ELBW group takes up a considerable amount of energy and resources the later preterm infants from 29 to 33 6/7 weeks are a much larger group of babies. How safe is this transition for this group at these weights? Shankaran et al from the NICHD published an RCT on this topic recently; Weaning of Moderately Preterm Infants from the Incubator to the Crib: A Randomized Clinical Trial. The study enrolled

Infants in this gestational age range with a birth weight <1600g were randomly assigned to a weaning weight of 1600 or 1800 g. Within 60 to 100 g of weaning weight, the incubator temperature was decreased by 1.0°C to 1.5°C every 24 hours until 28.0°C. Weaning to the crib occurred when axillary temperatures were maintained 36.5°C to 37.4°C for 8 to 12 hours. Clothing and bedcoverings were standardized. The primary outcome was LOS from birth to discharge.

What did they find?

A total of 366 babies were enrolled (187 at 1600g and 179 at 1800g. Baseline characteristics of the two groups revealed no statistical differences. Mean LOPS was a median of 43 days in the lower and 41 days in the higher weight group (P = .12). After transition to a crib weight gain was better in the lower weight group, 13.7 g/kg/day vs 12.8 g/kg/ day (P = .005). Tracking of adverse events such as the incidence of severe hypothermia did not differ between groups. The only real significant difference was a better likelihood of weaning from the incubator in the higher group at 98% success vs 92% on the first attempt. Putting. That in perspective though, a 92% success rate by my standards is high enough to make an attempt worthwhile!

Concluding thoughts

The authors have essentially shown that whether you wean at the higher or lower weight threshold your chances of success are pretty much the same. Curiously, weight gain after weaning was improved which seems counter intuitive. I would have thought that these infants would have to work extra hard metabolically to maintain their temperature and have a lower weight gain but that was not the case. Interestingly, this finding has been shown in another study as well; New K, Flint A, Bogossian F, East C, Davies MW. Transferring preterm infants from incubators to open cots at 1600 g: a multicentre randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2012;97:F88-92. Metabolic rate has been shown to increase in these infants but skin fold thickness has been shown to increase as well in infants moved to a crib. How these two things go together is a little beyond me as I would have thought that as metabolic rate increases storage of tissue would slow. Not apparently the case but perhaps just another example of the bodies ability to overcome challenges when put in difficult situations. A case maybe of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”

The authors do point out that the intervention was unmasked but the standardization of weaning procedure and garments used in the cribs should have overcome that. There were 36% of parents who did not consent to the study so their inclusion could have swayed the results perhaps but the sample size here was large despite that. That the final results agree with findings in ELBW infants suggests that the results are plausible.

What I think this study does though is tell us overall that weaning at a smaller weight is at least alright to try once one is at minimal settings in an incubator. Will this change your units practice? It is something that at least merits discussion.

Baby It’s Cold Outside! How Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin works to thermoregulate Infants

Baby It’s Cold Outside! How Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin works to thermoregulate Infants

By Diane Schultz

I thought I would start off my series of posts with one of the most basic reasons we do Kangaroo Care.
Thermoregulation is the process of maintaining an infant’s temperature within normal range. Thermoregulation is extremely important for the newborn (term or preterm). An infant’s body surface area is 3X greater than an adult’s, causing them to potentially lose heat rapidly, up to 4X faster. When cold stressed, infants use energy and oxygen to generate warmth.  Oxygen consumption can increase by as much as 10%. Thermoregulation of the infants allows them to conserve energy and build up *reserves”.

What Happens When An infant Is Placed Skin to Skin?

When the term infant is placed skin to skin at birth, the mother’s breasts immediately start to warm and conduct heat to the infant, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels due to the infant not having to use their own brown fat to stay warm (Bergstrom et al.,2007;Bystrova et al.,2007;Ludington-Hoe et al.,2000,2006) (Chantry,2005;Christensson et al.,1992).

Kangaroo Care maintains a Neutral Thermal Environment (defined as the ideal setting in which an infant can maintain a normal body temperature while producing only the minimum amount of heat generated from basal life-sustaining metabolic processes).
In our unit, any infant that needs an incubator to maintain their temperature can only come out to be held by Kangaroo Care instead of being bundle held. To help maintain thermoregulation we make sure the infant and parent are in a draft free area, and use 2-4 layers of blankets over the infant (you can always remove a layer if needed). Infants weighing less than 1000gms should wear some type of head cap and monitor them using the incubator’s temperature probe. Remember too, we don’t want any bras or clothing between the infant and the mother, fabric will interfere with the conductance of heat from mother to infant (Ludington-Hoe et al.,2000).
One of the interesting things about KC and thermoregulation is if a mother holds twins in KC each breast works independently to warm each infant (Ludington-Hoe, et al.,2006). Triplets? Not sure, but our mothers hold their “trips” together all the time and we have had no issues.
Now, how about the father? Does he thermoregulate like the mother? With mothers you have what is called Thermal Synchrony (maternal breast temperatures changing in response to the infant’s temperature) (Ludington-Hoe, et al.,1990;1994,2000) where the fathers chests will warm up when the infant is placed in KC but will not cool down (Maastrup & Greisen, 2010). We don’t have any issues with our fathers overheating, just lots of hair to be picked off the infant after!

Maybe we shouldn’t be in such a rush to stop caffeine.

Maybe we shouldn’t be in such a rush to stop caffeine.

Given that many preterm infants as they near term equivalent age are ready to go home it is common practice to discontinue caffeine sometime between 33-34 weeks PMA.  We do this as we try to time the readiness for discharge in terms of feeding, to the desire to see how infants fare off caffeine.  In general, most units I believe try to send babies home without caffeine so we do our best to judge the right timing in stopping this medication.  After a period of 5-7 days we generally declare the infant safe to be off caffeine and then move on to other issues preventing them from going home to their families.  This strategy generally works well for those infants who are born at later gestations but as Rhein LM et al demonstrated in their paper Effects of caffeine on intermittent hypoxia in infants born prematurely: a randomized clinical trial., after caffeine is stopped, the number of intermittent hypoxic (IH) events are not trivial between 35-39 weeks.  Caffeine it would seem may still offer some benefit to those infants who seem otherwise ready to discontinue the medication.  What the authors noted in this randomized controlled trial was that the difference caffeine made when continued past 34 weeks was limited to reducing these IH events only from 35-36 weeks but the effect didn’t last past that.  Why might that have been?  Well it could be that the babies after 36 weeks don’t have enough events to really show a difference or it could be that the dose of caffeine isn’t enough by that point.  The latter may well be the case as the metabolism of caffeine ramps up during later gestations and changes from a half life greater than a day in the smallest infants to many hours closer to term.  Maybe the caffeine just clears faster?

Follow-up Study attempts to answer that very question.

Recognizing the possibility that levels of caffeine were falling too low after 36 weeks the authors of the previous study begun anew to ask the same question but this time looking at caffeine levels in saliva to ensure that sufficient levels were obtained to demonstrate a difference in the outcome of frequency of IH.  In this study, they compared the original cohort of patients who did not receive caffeine after planned discontinuation (N=53) to 27 infants who were randomized to one of two caffeine treatments once the decision to stop caffeine was made.  Until 36 weeks PMA each patient was given a standard 10 mg/kg of caffeine case and then randomized to two different strategies.  The two dosing strategies were 14 mg/kg of caffeine citrate (equals 7 mg/kg of caffeine base) vs 20 mg/kg (10 mg/kg caffeine base) which both started once the patient reached 36 weeks in anticipation of increased clearance.  Salivary caffeine levels were measured just prior to stopping the usual dose of caffeine and then one week after starting 10 mg/kg dosing and then at 37 and 38 weeks respectively on the higher dosing.  Adequate serum levels are understood to be > 20 mcg/ml and salivary and plasma concentrations have been shown to have a high level of agreement previously so salivary measurement seems like a good approach.  Given that it was a small study it is work noting that the average age of the group that did not receive caffeine was 29.1 weeks compared to the caffeine groups at 27.9 weeks.  This becomes important in the context of the results in that earlier gestational age patients would be expected to have more apnea which is not what was observed suggesting a beneficial effect of caffeine even at this later gestational age.  Each patient was to be monitored with an oximeter until 40 weeks as per unit guidelines.

So does caffeine make a difference once term gestation is reached?

A total of 32 infants were enrolled with 12 infants receiving the 14 mg/kg and 14 the 20 mg/kg dosing.  All infants irrespective of assigned group had caffeine concentrations above 20 mcg/mL ensuring that a therapeutic dose had been received.  The intent had been to look at babies out to 40 weeks with pulse oximetry even when discharged but owing to drop off in compliance with monitoring for a minimum of 10 hours per PMA week the analysis was restricted to infants at 37 and 38 weeks which still meant extension past 36 weeks as had been looked at already in the previous study.  The design of this study then compared infants receiving known therapeutic dosing at this GA range with a previous cohort from the last study that did not receive caffeine after clinicians had determined it was no longer needed.

The outcomes here were measured in seconds per 24 hours of intermittent hypoxia (An IH event was defined as a decrease in SaO2 by ⩾ 10% from baseline and lasting for ⩾5 s).  For graphical purposes the authors chose to display the number of seconds oxygen saturation fell below 90% per day and grouped the two caffeine patients together given that the salivary levels in both were therapeutic.  As shown a significant difference in events was seen at all gestational ages.

Putting it into context

The scale used I find interesting and I can’t help but wonder if it was done intentionally to provide impact.  The outcome here is measured in seconds and when you are speaking about a mean of 1200 vs 600 seconds it sounds very dramatic but changing that into minutes you are talking about 20 vs 10 minutes a day.  Even allowing for the interquartile ranges it really is not more than 50 minutes of saturation less than 90% at 36 weeks.  The difference of course as you increase in gestation becomes less as well.  When looking at the amount of time spent under 80% for the groups at the three different gestational ages there is still a difference but the amount of time at 36, 37 and 38 weeks was 229, 118 and 84 seconds respectively without caffeine (about 4, 2 and 1 minute per day respectively) vs 83, 41, and 22 seconds in the caffeine groups. I can’t help but think this is a case of statistical significance with questionable clinical significance.  The authors don’t indicate that any patients were readmitted with “blue spells” who were being monitored at home which then leaves the sole question in my mind being “Do these brief periods of hypoxemia matter?”  In the absence of a long-term follow-up study I would have to say I don’t know but while I have always been a fan of caffeine I am just not sure.

Should we be in a rush to stop caffeine?  Well, given that the long term results of the CAP study suggest the drug is safe in the preterm population I would suggest there is no reason to be concerned about continuing caffeine a little longer. If the goal is getting patients home and discharging on caffeine is something you are comfortable with then continuing past 35 weeks is something that may have clinical impact.  At the very least I remain comfortable in my own practice of not being in a rush to stop this medication and on occasion sending a patient home with it as well.

The End of All Things Neonatal & A New Beginning

The End of All Things Neonatal & A New Beginning

It is hard to believe that I gave birth as it were to All Things Neonatal in February of 2015.  After 170 published posts and so many wonderful experiences it was time for a change.  I have moved the entire blog over to this new location which allows me a great deal more control over the look and feel of the site.  It has been a great journey and I have gained many friends along the way.  These experiences and interactions with parents, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, dieticians and many others have let to a tremendous amount of shared knowledge and I hope that you the reader are better for it.  I am also pleased to say that the blogging and other social media venues have taken me far beyond the borders of Manitoba and allowed me to learn from others as well.  As you take a look around the site you will notice there are some changes to the layout and the overall look that I hope you like.  I also hope that the next 170 blog posts are as interesting to you as the first batch.

If you want to change your bookmark for the site it is now at

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How reliable are capillary refill and blood pressure in determination of hemodynamic compromise?

How reliable are capillary refill and blood pressure in determination of hemodynamic compromise?

When I think back to my early days as a medical student, one of the first lessons on the physical exam involves checking central and peripheral perfusion as part of the cardiac exam.  In the newborn to assess the hemodynamic status I have often taught that while the blood pressure is a nice number to have it is important to remember that it is a number that is the product of two important factors; resistance and flow.  It is possible then that a newborn with a low blood pressure could have good flow but poor vascular tone (warm shock) or poor flow and increased vascular tone (cardiogenic shock or hypovolemia).  Similarly, the baby with good perfusion could be in septic shock and be vasodilated with good flow.  In other words the use of capillary and blood pressure may not tell you what you really want to know.

Is there a better way?

As I have written about previously, point of care ultrasound is on the rise in Neonatology.  As more trainees are being taught the skill and equipment more readily available opportunities abound for testing various hypotheses about the benefit of such technology.  In addition to my role as a clinical Neonatologist I am also the Medical Director of the Child Health Transport Team and have pondered about a future where ultrasound is taken on retrievals to enhance patient assessment.  I was delighted therefore to see a small but interesting study published on this very topic this past month. Browning Carmo KB and colleagues shared their experience in retrieving 44 infants in their paper Feasibility and utility of portable ultrasound during retrieval of sick preterm infants.  The study amounted to a proof of concept and took 7 years to complete in large part due to the rare availability of staff who were trained in ultrasound to retrieve patients.   These were mostly small higher risk patients (median birthweight, 1130 g (680–1960 g) and median gestation, 27 weeks (23–30)).  Availability of a laptop based ultrasound device made this study possible now that there are nearly palm sized and tablet based ultrasound units this study would be even more feasible now (sometimes they were unable to send a three person team due to weight reasons when factoring in the ultrasound equipment).  Without going into great detail the measurements included cardiac (structural and hemodynamic) & head ultrasounds.  Bringing things full circle it is the hemodynamic assessment that I found the most interesting.

Can we rely on capillary refill?

From previous work normal values for SVC flow are >50 ml/kg/min and for Right ventricular output > 150 ml/kg/min. These thresholds if not met have been correlated with adverse long term outcomes and in the short term need for inotropic support.  In the absence of these ultrasound measurements one would use capillary refill and blood pressure to determine the clinical status but how accurate is it?

First of all out of the 44 patients retrieved, assessment in the field demonstrated 27 (61%) had evidence using these parameters of low systemic blood flow. After admission to the NICU 8 had persistent low systemic blood flow with the patients shown below in the table.  The striking finding (at least to me) is that 6 out of 8 had capillary refill times < 2 seconds.  With respect to blood pressure 5/8 had mean blood pressures that would be considered normal or even elevated despite clearly compromised systemic blood flow.  To answer the question I have posed in this section I think the answer is that capillary refill and I would also add blood pressure are not telling you the whole story.  I suspect in these patients the numbers were masking the true status of the patient.

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How safe is transport?

One other aspect of the study which I hope would provide some relief to those of us who transport patients long distance is that the head ultrasound findings before and after transport were unchanged.  Transport with all of it’s movement to and fro and vibrations would not seem to put babies at risk of intracranial bleeding.


Where do we go from here?

Before we all jump on the bandwagon and spend a great deal of money buying such equipment it needs to be said “larger studies are needed” looking at such things as IVH.  Although it is reassuring that patients with IVH did not have extension of such bleeding after transport, it needs to be recognized that with such a small study I am not comfortable saying that the case is closed. What I am concerned about though is the lack of correlation between SVC and RVO measurements and the findings we have used for ages to estimate hemodynamic status in patients.

There will be those who resist such change as it does require effort to acquire a new set of skills.  I do see this happening though as we move forward if we want to have the most accurate assessment of clinical status in our patients.  As equipment with high resolution becomes increasingly available at lower price points, how long can we afford not to adapt?