The Surprising Way One Texas Hospital Is Saving Preemies — with Ziploc Freezer Bags

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

A Texas hospital is taking a unique approach to supporting premature babies, using a household item that most of us have in our kitchen cupboards or pantries — Ziploc freezer bags.

The program, developed by nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Texas Health Fort Worth, involves placing premature babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation and weighing less than 3.3 lbs. into Ziploc freezer bags. After cutting a hole at the top of the bag, the nurse then slides the baby into the bag just moments after birth in order to keep the fragile babies warmer.

According to NBCDFW5 News, the freezer bag program has led to a decrease in the number of very low birth weight babies who are admitted to the NICU as hypothermic. Because premature infants with temperatures below 96.8 degrees are at higher risk of mortality and deadly conditions — including late-onset sepsis, intraventricular hemorrhage, and oxygen toxicity — putting the preemies in freezer bags potentially increases their chance of survival.

“It creates kind of a hot house effect so the babies stay warm. So, as they are rolled into the NICU, their admission temperatures are normal,” Stephanie Eidson, B.S.N., clinical educator told NBCDFW5 News.

Recognizing the potentially life-saving impact of the freezer bag program, Eidson and her colleague Lindsey Cannon, M.S.N., R.N. put together a team of medical professionals at the hospital to work on the “Hypothermia Eradication from Admission Temperatures “H.E.A.T.” study.”

A similar study conducted in Zambia back in 2013 also showed positive results after nurses and doctors used plastic bags (much like grocery bags) to keep the infants warm. According to the New York Times, the babies were then placed on their mothers’ chests right after birth in what is often referred to as “kangaroo care.” But because kangaroo care is not always adequate, or a baby may need to be separated from the mother briefly, putting the preemies in a plastic bag before wrapping them in a blanket warmed the baby better than a blanket alone.

Along with freezer bags, the Texas hospital also relies on other medical interventions, such as the use of preheated radiant warmers, thermal mattresses, polypropylene bags, and plastic shower caps to prevent heat loss for preemies. Additionally, the room temperature of the delivery room was increased from 74 to 76 degrees.

Despite the unconventional approach, the program is yielding positive results. Within two years, the percentage of hypothermic infants admitted to the NICU decreased from 20% to 10%, and the rate of infants with normal temperatures increased from 50% to 70%. Parents of premature babies are, obviously, pleased with the results — even if they may be surprised at first.

“Seeing them in Ziploc bags was very odd. I didn’t expect that one,” said Jason Evans, whose twins — Emma and Abigail — were delivered at the hospital in November. Born at 30 weeks gestation, the girls weighed just three pounds and two pounds, 11 ounces, respectively. But he and his wife, Christine, are grateful for the freezer bags.

“We could have been at any other hospital and not had the same outcome. We don’t know. But we were in the right place at the right time,” said Christine Evans.

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