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Medical Miracles: NICU Incubators

Meet your guide...

I, Ashley Hillmer, am currently a senior at Monona Grove High School in Monona, WI. In the fall of 2016 I will be attending UW Oshkosh to work towards getting my BSN (Bachelors of Science in Nursing) and then I will be continuing my education to obtain my DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). Eventually, I would love to specialize in neonatology

Neonatal Incubators

Keeping premature infants protected from the world outside even after birth. 

Medical Miracle

The field of neonatology was a disrespected field due to the fact that everyone thought the babies had no chance at survival. Dr. Martin A Couney was a leader in neonatology and invented the modern baby incubator. Back then, incubators were called 'child hatcheries'. Couney had a premature daughter and she ended up surviving due to her father's hard work and care. He invented the incubator and wanted to save many lives with them but banks were unwilling to finance them. Because of this Couney started a baby incubator exhibit in 1903 and took premature babies to fairs and amusement parks for the public to see the necessity of these incubators. Couney never charged any of the babies parents for their care and none of his babies ever died. The exhibits were a huge success and 3,600 people visited them a day. After hospitals started to accept his incubators and the neonatal field, Couney declared success and closed his exhibits in the 1940's. 

Learn more ⇒

Learn more ⇒

Learn more ⇒



Significant Discovery

An incubator was first thought of to monitor the baby and protect them from noise, germs, and to control their body temperature. Since then, incubators have done so much more. They have beaten odds and allowed babies with no chance of survival to have more than they could ever ask for. To put in perspective, as of 2015 the United States has 4 neonatal deaths for every 1,000 live births. Compare this to in 1990 the United States had 6 neonatal deaths for every 1,000 births. This may not seem like a huge difference, but in other countries, the numbers are more drastic.

To View Death Rate In Other Countries ⇒ 

According to this graph, in the 1940's, there was close to 30 neonatal deaths in the United States, and now their is 4 neonatal deaths for every 1,000 live births. 

Incubators have saved many lives and the technology of them has grown tremendously. When they first were discovered, they were just a box with a pot of warm water underneath them. Now, they are huge plastic boxes with several cords and monitors all serving a different purpose. Simply by placing a baby in an incubator and hooking them up to the cords and monitors, one can tell everything that is going on with that baby. They can tell how many breaths they are taking, what their temp is, if they are growing, their weight, and much more. The baby never needs to come out of the incubator these days. All of the attention they need can be provided while in the incubator.

Emerging Innovations

When incubators were discovered, the neonatal field changed drastically. Neonatal incubators back when they were discovered were nothing compared to what they are now. After someone discovered that neonatal babies need to be warmed and in a womb like structure or environment, people started to figure out ways to not have to take them out of the incubator. There are arm holes for nurses to administer drugs and care through, all off the monitors are directly attached to the baby and the incubator, they can wheel the baby to the operating room in the incubator if need be, and they can do a lot more. All of these realizations have given neonatal babies a greater chance at surviving life. 

Neonatal incubators when they were first discovered

Neonatal incubators today.

Social Impact


Positive Effects

Negative Effects


Incubators allow the baby to receive the treatment and protection that they need after birth.

Incubators take up a lot of space and only so many can be put in each hospital.


Incubators have raised the number of jobs in the field of neonatology.

Incubators lead to increase in training time due to the different types of incubators in different hospitals.


All hospitals have incubators, so even families with low health insurance have access to it.

It is not a natural way for a baby to be brought into the world.


The death rate of neonatal babies at each hospital decreases with the use of incubators.

The logistics of figuring out which infant gets priority if not enough incubators are available can cloudy sometimes.


Incubators bring a lot of money for the hospital.

Due to incubators being very expensive, it is hard for families to afford to keep their babies in them.

Incubators affect society in many ways. Having access to incubators in almost all of our hospitals, it helps the population grow by letting premature babies have a shot in life. Incubators bring in a lot of money to the hospitals and the economy, but they cost a lot for the families putting the baby in the incubators. The discovery of the incubator brought more jobs and expanded the field of neonatology and they also increased the life expectancy of premature babies. There is some down falls to incubators including: the cost, they take up a lot of space leaving only room for a set amount, and incubators come with a costly training process. Every new technology has pros and cons, but in this case, I believe the pros outweigh the cons. Incubators have saved a lot of babies lives and they are a significant medical discovery.


The biggest things to worry about with neonatal babies are temperature and heat loss. Babies born 8 weeks before term have no ability to sweat and babies born 3 weeks early have limited ability to sweat only in their face and head. Since the baby can not control their own temperature, the risk of hyperthermia is high and they need to be assessed and treated fast. Due to this and the fact that they have a large surface area, poor insulation, and low mass, they can not regulate their own temperature and that is where the incubator comes in. Neonatal incubators have many functions going on at once. There is technology to monitor the temperature, oxygen levels, cardiac rhythms, blood levels, and the vital signs of the babies. If any of these readings are bad, the nurses can administer the care they need to while the baby is still in the incubator. To help with controlling temperature and oxygen, incubators include an AC-powered fan, fans to circulate warm air, container for water for humidity, a valve for oxygen, and access ports for nursing care. 

Learn more ⇒

Learn more ⇒


What do you think?

KEEP Did you or someone you know, have to put your/their children in an incubator?
YES: 4 votes (57.14%)
NO: 3 votes (42.86%)
Total Votes: 7
KEEP If you had a child, what gestation age were they at birth?
Less than 32 weeks: 3 votes (42.86%)
32-36 weeks: 0 votes (0%)
37-39 weeks: 0 votes (0%)
40 weeks or more: 0 votes (0%)
Did not have a child.: 4 votes (57.14%)
Total Votes: 7
KEEP Do you work in the medical field?
YES: 1 votes (14.29%)
NO: 6 votes (85.71%)
Total Votes: 7

Future Directions

Incubators will continue to be used in the medical field for many more years. The biggest problem I see is the cost of these pieces of equipment. In the future, I believe more countries will start to adopt more modified versions of neonatal incubators.

Impressively, a twenty three year old, James Roberts, has created a compact incubator that will inflate when it is needed and it is only a fraction of the cost of a normal incubator. (400 dollars compared to 50,00 dollars).

Learn more

Also, Embrace has created a bag replication of an incubator to be affordable to developing nations who can not afford multiple incubators. These warmers are inexpensive, durable, portable, hygienic, safe, and effective.

Learn more ⇒



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