Manufacturer of open radiant warming systems often supply the unit with a warmed gel pad on the bedding surface. This has led to some discussions about what is the best.
Basically one can say: A water mattress is alive, a gel pad is dead.
The reason for the gel pad is the manufacturers wish to be able to provide warmth from underneath and using a gel makes it possible for them to get a uniform surface temperature.
A gel pad and a water mattress are both thermally conductive. The water mattress has a high thermal conductivity. The gel pad has a low thermal conductivity.
The gel will absorb warmth slowly because of its fat like properties. Therefore it can be cold on one side and warm on the other side. It is difficult to get warmth through them which results in a temperature gradient of several degrees between the warming surface and the patient surface. It is therefore very sensitive to surrounding temperatures and various types of insulation.
A water mattress will let the water circulate so that it uniforms the temperature and no significant temperature gradient will exist between the heating source and the patient side.
Bedding and decubitus properties
A gel pad might feel soft to an adult but for a newborn or a premature baby, it is definitely too hard.
Therefore the gel pad is most often covered by some softer material and consequently the amount of heat that reaches the baby is impossible to predict. The water mattress is soft and flexible and a baby can be placed directly on it.
If one wants to keep a baby warm and comfortable then a water mattress is the best alternative because of its resemblance with the mother’s warm soft skin. Because of its high heat conductivity one can easily regulate the baby’s temperature and no additional warming is needed.