Neonatal scales are used for weighing newborns and are sometimes referred to as infant scales or baby scales. Although the neonatal period is generally thought of as the first four weeks of life for humans, the scales can be used for much longer periods of time, depending on the weight of the infant. Baby scales are specially designed to accommodate the small size of a newborn. They are built with comfort, ease of use and child safety in mind.
The weight increments are smaller than those on pediatric scales, which are used for larger infants. Weight is provided in both pounds and grams or kilograms. The upper capacity is generally 45 pounds (20.4 kg).
Neonatal scales serve important medical functions. The release of a child to go home from the hospital or birthing center depends, in part, on his or her weight. If there are no indications of poor health and the infant's weight is within normal limits, he or she is labeled as a healthy baby who’s soon going to be ready to leave.
If a child’s weight is in a danger zone, this can indicate that he or she will need specialized care in the neonatal ward of a medical center. In the neonatal ward, medical teams treat infants who are suffering from complications of being born prematurely. These infants, and in particular newborns who had a very low birth weight, are monitored closely and weighed frequently so that any weight gain or loss can be consistently observed and charted.
In the developing world, low birth weight has been found to be a leading determinant in neonatal mortality. It has been reported that birth weight-related program management and fund allocation were indirectly improved by the use of precision neonatal scales. In remote areas of southern Nepal, the estimated number of children needing treatment for low birth-weight complications was reduced when better quality scales with more accurate readings were used.
There are several types of neonatal scales. Some of the units have built-in motion sensors that detect patient movements. The scale will adjust for the movement and take a precise weight measurement. These very accurate, high-grade scales are the type used by hospitals and are generally attached to mobile carts.
Some high-tech units offer an easy-to-read light-emitting diode (LED) display and an auto shutoff that activates after a certain number of minutes have elapsed without the scales being in use. Certain units offer both battery and alternating current (AC) power. Other features can include an easy-to-clean acrylic tray on which to place the infant or a built-in tape measure to check the size and length of a baby.
The use of neonatal scales is not limited to hospitals, private pediatric offices or medical clinics — nor even limited to human subjects. Zoos, animal clinics, wildlife rehabilitation centers and pet breeders also use them to weigh animals. Any creature or object that is small enough in size and doesn’t exceed the weight limit can join the weigh-in.