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Neonatal Whole Body Cooling Procedure

Some newborns experience hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) at birth. This abnormal neurological state results from reduced levels of oxygen (hypoxia) or blood flow (ischemia) to the baby's brain or body. 

Nurse with newborn in the NICU

Over the past several years, therapeutic hypothermia, or whole body cooling, has been used to treat HIE. Neonatologists at Inova Children's Hospital recommend this cooling treatment to help protect your baby's brain. By slowing the metabolism, there is evidence the procedure may reduce death and disability in babies with encephalopathy.

To be most effective, treatment should begin within six hours of birth. Call 703-776-6020 for more information.


How does therapeutic hypothermia work?

Your baby will be placed on a water-filled cooling blanket and receive constant monitoring in our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Your baby's temperature will be lowered, slowly and safely, to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33.5 degrees Celsius). 

By maintaining this temperature for three days, your baby's metabolic processes slow. This decreases the severity and extent of potential brain injury from HIE.


What else happens during treatment?

Your baby will be nourished by IV fluids during treatment and may need medicine for seizures or to regulate blood pressure. A breathing machine may be needed. We continuously monitor your baby during the body cooling process to ensure that he or she receives excellent care. After three days of cooling, your baby will be slowly warmed to normal body temperature.

Procedures your baby may need during treatment include:

  • MRI – brain imaging study that looks for brain injury caused by HIE
  • EEG – test that measures electrical activity of the brain
  • Intubation – placing a tube in the windpipe to help with breathing
  • Umbilical lines – catheters that go into the vein and artery in the umbilical cord to allow close monitoring of blood pressure

What follow-up care will my baby need?

Once discharged from the NICU, your baby will need careful follow-up with your pediatrician. Additional appointments may be needed with specialists such as a developmental psychologist or neurologist.

Call 703-776-6020 for more information about the neonatal whole body cooling procedure at Inova Children's Hospital.