If I look back on my career there have been many things I have been passionate about but the one that sticks out as the most longstanding is premedicating newborns prior to non-emergent intubation. The bolded words in the last sentence are meant to reinforce that in the setting of a newborn who is deteriorating rapidly it would be inappropriate to wait for medications to be drawn up if the infant is already experiencing severe oxygen desaturation and/or bradycardia. The CPS Fetus and Newborn committee of which I am a member has a statement on the use of premedication which seems as relevant today as when it was first developed. In this statement the suggested cocktail of atropine, fentanyl and succinylcholine is recommended and having used it in our centre I can confirm that it is effective. In spite of this recommendation by our national organization there remain those who are skeptical of the need for this altogether and then there are others who continue to search for a better cocktail. Since I am at the annual conference for the CPS in Quebec city I thought it would be appropriate to provide a few comments on this topic.
Three concerns with rapid sequence induction (RSI) for premedication before intubation
1. “I don’t need it. I don’t have any trouble intubating a newborn” – This is perhaps the most common reason I hear naysayers raise. There is no question that an 60-90 kg practitioner can overpower a < 5kg infant and in particular an ELBW infant weighing < 1 kg. This misses the point though. Premedicating has been shown to increase success on the first attempt and shorten times to intubation. Dempsey 2006, Roberts 2006, Carbajal 2007, Lemyre 2009
2. “I usually get in on the first attempt and am very slick so risk of injury is less.” Not really true overall. No doubt there are those individuals who are highly successful but overall the risk of adverse events is reduced with premedication. (Marshall 1984, Lemyre 2009). I would also proudly add another Canadian study from Edmonton by Dr. Byrne and Dr. Barrington who performed 249 consecutive intubations with predication and noted minimal side effects but high success rates at first pass.
3. “Intubation is not a painful procedure”. This one is somewhat tough to obtain a true answer for as the neonate of course cannot speak to this. There is evidence available again from Canadian colleagues in 1984 and 1989 that would suggest that infants at the very least experience discomfort or show physiologic signs of stress when intubated using an “awake” approach. In 1984 Kelly and Finer in Edmonton published Nasotracheal intubation in the neonate: physiologic responses and effects of atropine and pancuronium. This randomized study of atropine with or without pancuronium vs control demonstrated intracranial hypertension only in those infants in the control arm with premedication ameliorating this finding. Similarly, in 1989 Barrington, Finer and the late Phil Etches also in Edmonton published Succinylcholine and atropine for premedication of the newborn infant before nasotracheal intubation: a randomized, controlled trial. This small study of 20 infants demonstrated the same finding of elimination of intracranial hypertension with premedication. At the very least I would suggest that having a laryngoscope blade put in your oral cavity while awake must be uncomfortable. If you still doubt that statement ask yourself whether you would want sedation if you needed to be intubated? Still feel the same way about babies not needing any?
4. What if I sedate and paralyze and there is a critical airway? Well this one may be something to consider. If one knows there is a large mass such as a cystic hygroma it may be best to leave the sedation or at least the paralysis out. The concern though that there might be an internal mass or obstruction that we just don’t know about seems a little unfounded as a justification for avoiding medications though.
Do we have the right cocktail?
The short answer is “I don’t know”. What I do know is that the use of atropine, an opioid and a muscle relaxant seems to provide good conditions for intubating newborns. We are in the era of refinement though and as a recent paper suggests, there could be alternatives to consider;Effect of Atropine With Propofol vs Atropine With Atracurium and Sufentanil on Oxygen Desaturation in Neonates Requiring Nonemergency IntubationA Randomized Clinical Trial. I personally like the idea of a two drug combination for intubating vs.. three as it leaves one less drug to worry about a medication error with. There are many papers out there looking at different drug combinations. This one though didn’t find a difference between the two combinations in terms of prolonged desaturations between the two groups which was the primary outcome. Interestingly though the process of intubating was longer with atropine and propofol. Given some peoples reluctance to use RSI at all, any drug combination which adds time to the the procedure is unlikely to go over well. Stay tuned though as I am sure there will be many other combinations over the next few years to try out!
“Recognizing that delivery and time of discharge practices vary across Canada, the timing of testing should be individualized for each centre and (ideally) occur after 24 hours postbirth to lower FP results. And because the intent is to screen newborns before they develop symptoms, the goal should be to perform screening before they reach 36 hours of age.”
This recommendation was put in place to minimize the number of false positive results and prevent Pediatricians and Cardiologists nationwide from being inundated with requests to rule out CCHD as earlier testing may pick up other causes for low oxygen saturation such as TTN. The issue remains though that many patients are indeed discharged before 24 hours and in the case of midwife deliveries either in centres or in the home what do we do?
A Population Study From the Netherlands May Be of Help Here
Researchers in the Netherlands had a golden opportunity to answer this question as a significant proportion of births occur there in the home under the care of a midwife. Accuracy of Pulse Oximetry Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Defects after Home Birth and Early Postnatal Discharge by Ilona C. Narayen et al was published this month in J Peds. About 30% of births are cared for by a midwife with about 20% occurring in the home. The authors chose to study this population of infants who were all above 35 weeks gestation and not admitted to an intensive care nor had suspicion of CCHD prior to delivery. The timing of the screening was altered from the typical 24-48 hours to be two time points to be more reflective of midwives practice. All patients were recruited after birth with the use of information pamphlets. The prospective protocol was screening on 2 separate moments: on day 1, at least 1 hour after birth, and on day 2 or 3 of life. The criteria for passing or failing the test are the same as those outlined in the CPS practice point. As part of the study, patients with known CCHDs were also screened separately as a different group to determine the accuracy of the screening test in patients with known CCHD.
There were nearly 24000 patients born during this period. Only 49 cases of CCHD were identified by screening and of these 36 had been picked up antenatally giving a detection rate of 73%. Out of 10 patients without prenatal diagnosis who also had saturation results available the detection rate was 50%. Three of the misses were coarctation of the aorta (most likely diagnosis to be missed in other studies), pulmonary stenosis (this one surprises me) and TGA (really surprises me). The false-positive rate of pulse oximetry screening (no CCHD) was 0.92%. The specificity was over 99% meaning that if you didn’t have CCHD you were very likely to have a negative test. Not surprisingly, most false- positives occurred on day 1 (190 on day 1 vs 31 infants on day 2 or 3). There were five patients missed who were not detected either by antenatal ultrasound. These 5 negatives ultimately presented with symptoms at later time points and all but one survived (TGA) so out of 24000 births the system for detecting CCHD did reasonably well in enhancing detection as they picked up another 5 babies that had been missed antenatally narrowing the undetected from 10 down to 5.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the study though is what they also found. As the authors state: “Importantly, 61% (134/221) of the infants with false-positive screenings proved to have significant noncardiac illnesses re- quiring intervention and medical follow-up, including infection/ sepsis (n = 31) and PPHN or transient tachypnea of the newborn (n = 88)”
There are certainly detractors of this screening approach but remember these infants were all thought to be asymptomatic. By implementing the screening program there was opportunity to potentially address infants care needs before they went on to develop more significant illness. Under appreciated TTN could lead to hypoxia and worsen and PPHN could become significantly worse as well. I think it is time to think of screening in this way as being more general and not just about finding CCHD. It is a means to identify children with CCHD OR RESPIRATORY illnesses earlier in their course and do something about it!
For almost a decade now confirmation of intubation is to be done using detection of exhaled CO2. The 7th Edition of NRP has the following to say about confirmation of ETT placement “The primary methods of confirming endotracheal tube placement within the trachea are detecting exhaled CO2 and a rapidly rising heart rate.” They further acknowledge that there are two options for determining the presence of CO2 “There are 2 types of CO2 detectors available. Colorimetric devices change color in the presence of CO2. These are the most commonly used devices in the delivery room. Capnographs are electronic monitors that display the CO2 concentration with each breath.” The NRP program stops short of recommending one versus the other. I don’t have access to the costs of the colorimetric detectors but I would imagine they are MUCH cheaper than the equipment and sensors required to perform capnography using the NM3 monitor as an example. The real question though is if capnography is truly better and might change practice and create a safer resuscitation, is it the way to go?
Fast but not fast enough?
So we have a direct comparison to look at. Hunt KA st al published Detection of exhaled carbon dioxide following intubation during resuscitation at delivery this month. They started from the standpoint of knowing from the manufacturer of the Pedicap that it takes a partial pressure of CO2 of 4 mm Hg to begin seeing a colour change from purple to yellow but only when the CO2 reaches 15 mm Hg do you see a consistent colour change with that device. The capnograph from the NM3 monitor on the other hand is quantitative so is able to accurately display when those two thresholds are reached. This allowed the group to compare how long it took to see the first colour change compared to any detection of CO2 and then at the 4 and 15 mm Hg levels to see which is the quicker method of detection. It is an interesting question as what would happen if you were in a resuscitation and the person intubates and swears that they are in but there is no colour change for 5, 10 or 15 seconds or longer? At what point do you pull the ETT? Compare that with a quantitative method in which there is CO2 present but it is lower than 4. Would you leave the tube in and use more pressure (either PIP/PEEP or both?)? Before looking at the results, it will not shock you that ANY CO2 should be detected faster than two thresholds but does it make a difference to your resuscitation?
The Head to Head Comparison
The study was done retrospectively for 64 infants with a confirmed intubation using the NM3 monitor and capnography. Notably the centre did not use a colorimetric detector as a comparison group but rather relied on the manufacturers data indicating the 4 and 15 mm Hg thresholds for colour changes. The mean age of patients intubated was 27 weeks with a range of 23 – 34 weeks. The results I believe show something quite interesting and informative.
Median time secs (range)
Earliest CO2 detection
3.7 (0 – 44s)
4 mm Hg
5.3 (0 – 727)
15 mm Hg
8.1 (0 – 727)
I wouldn’t worry too much about a difference of 1.6 seconds to start getting a colour change but it is the range that has me a little worried. The vast majority of the patients demonstrated a level of 4 or 15 mm Hg within 50 seconds although many were found to take 25-50 seconds. When compared to a highest level of 44 seconds in the first detection of CO2 group it leads one to scratch their head. How many times have you been in a resuscitation and with no CO2 change you keep the ETT in past 25 seconds? Looking closer at the patients, there were 12 patients that took more than 30 seconds to reach a threshold of 4 mm Hg. All but one of the patients had a heart rate in between 60-85. Additionally there was an inverse relationship found between gestational age and time to detection. In other words, the smallest of the babies in the study took the longest to establish the threshold of 4 and 15 mm Hg.
Putting it into context?
What this study tells me is that the most fragile of infants may take the longest time to register a colour change using the colorimetric devices. It may well be that these infants take longer to open up their pulmonary vasculature and deliver CO2 to the alveoli. As well these same infants may take longer to open the lung and exhale the CO2. I suppose I worry that when a resuscitation is not going well and an infant at 25 weeks is bradycardic and being given PPV through an ETT without colour change, are they really not intubated? In our own centre we use capnometry in these infants (looks for a wave form of CO2) which may be the best option if you are looking to avoid purchasing equipment for quantitative CO2 measurements. I do worry though that in places where the colorimetric devices are used for all there will be patients who are extubated due to the thought that they in fact have an esophageal intubation when the truth is they just need time to get the CO2 high enough to register a change in colour.
Anyways, this is food for thought and a chance to look at your own practice and see if it is in need of a tweak…
Skin to skin care or kangaroo care is all the rage and I am the first one to offer my support for it. Questions persist though as to whether from a physiological standpoint, babies are more stable in an isolette in a quiet environment or out in the open on their mother or father’s chests. Bornhorst et al expressed caution in their study Skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care, respiratory control, and thermoregulation. In a surprising finding, babies with an average gestational age of 29 weeks were monitored for a number of physiological parameters and found to have more frequent apnea and higher heart rates than when in an isolette. The study was small though and while there were statistical differences in these parameters they may not have had much clinical significance (1.5 to 2.8 per hour for apnea, bradycardia or desaturation events). Furthermore, does an increase in such events translate into any changes in cerebral oxygenation that might in turn have implications for later development? Tough to say based on a study of this magnitude but it certainly does raise some eyebrows.
What if we could look at cerebral oxygenation?
As you might have guessed, that is exactly what has been done by Lorenz L et al in their recent paper Cerebral oxygenation during skin-to-skin care in preterm infants not receiving respiratory support.The goal of this study was to look at 40 preterm infants without any respiratory distress and determine whether cerebral oxygenation (rStO2)was better in their isolette or in skin to skin care (SSC). They allowed each infant to serve as their own control by have three 90 minute periods each including the first thirty minutes as a washout period. Each infant started their monitoring in the isolette then went to SSC then back to the isolette. The primary outcome the power calculation was based on was the difference in rStO2 between SSC and in the isolette. Secondary measures looked at such outcomes as HR, O2 sat, active and quiet sleep percentages, bradycardic events as lastly periods of cerebral hypoxia or hyperoxia. Normal cerebral oxygenation was defined as being between 55 to 85%.
Perhaps its the start of a trend but again the results were a bit surprising showing a better rStO2 when in the isolette (−1.3 (−2.2 to −0.4)%, p<0.01). Other results are summarized in the table below:
Mean difference in outcomes
Difference in mean
% time in quiet sleep
No differences were seen in bradycardic events, apnea, cerebral hypoexmia or hyperoxemia. The authors found that SSC periods in fact failed the “non-inferiority” testing indicating that from a rStO2 standpoint, babies were more stable when not doing SSC! Taking a closer look though one could argue that even if this is true does it really matter? What is the impact on a growing preterm infant if their cerebral oxygenation is 1.3 percentage points on average lower during SSC or if their HR is 5 beats per minute faster? I can’t help but think that this is an example of statistical significance without clinical significance. Nonetheless, if there isn’t a superiority of these parameters it does leave one asking “should we keep at it?”
Benefits of skin to skin care
Important outcomes such as reductions in mortality and improved breastfeeding rates cannot be ignored or the positive effects on family bonding that ensue. Some will argue though that the impacts on mortality certainly may be relevant in developing countries where resources are scarce but would we see the same benefits in developed nations. The authors did find a difference though in this study that I think benefits developing preterm infants across the board no matter which country you are in. That benefit is that of Quiet Sleep (QS). As preterm infants develop they tend to spend more time in QS compared to active sleep (AS). From Doussard- Roossevelt J, “Quiet sleep consists of periods of quiescence with regular respiration and heart rate, and synchronous EEG patterns. Active sleep consists of periods of movement with irregular respiration and heart rate, and desynchronous EEG patterns.” In the above table one sees that the percentage of time in QS was significantly increased compared to AS when in SSC. This is important as neurodevelopment is thought to advance during periods of QS as preterm infants age.
There may be little difference favouring less oxygen extraction during isolette times but maybe that isn’t such a good thing? Could it be that the small statistical difference in oxygen extraction is because the brain is more active in laying down tracks and making connections? Totally speculative on my part but all that extra quiet sleep has got to be good for something.
To answer the question of this post in the title I think the answer is a resounding yes for the more stable infant. What we don’t know at the moment except from anecdotal reports of babies doing better in SSC when really sick is whether on average critically ill babies will be better off in SSC. I suspect the answer is that some will and some won’t. While we like to keep things simple and have a one size fits all answer for most of our questions in the NICU, this one may not be so simple. For now I think we keep promoting SSC for even our sick patients but need to be honest with ourselves and when a patient just isn’t ready for the handling admit it and try again when more stable. For the more stable patient though I think giving more time for neurons to find other neurons and make new connections is a good thing to pursue!