For premature babies, getting the slightest chill can increase their chance of life-threatening illnesses.
Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Texas Health Fort Worth developed a program to keep fragile babies warmer.
It has led to a decrease of very low birth weight babies being admitted to the NICU as hypothermic, and potentially increasing their chance of survival.
Premature infants with admission temperatures below 96.8 degrees are at higher risk of mortality and some morbidities, including late-onset sepsis, intraventricular hemorrhage and oxygen toxicity.
The program involves placing the most fragile premature babies, usually less than 32 weeks gestation and 3.3 pounds, into Ziploc freezer bags.
The team cuts a hole at the top of the bag and slides the baby in head first moments after birth.
"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," said Stephanie Eidson, B.S.N., clinical educator.
"It sounds so simple that people might wonder why the focus on temperature is just now being addressed, but the process was actually very involved," said Lindsey Cannon, M.S.N., R.N., NICU manager.
Cannon and Eidson put together a team consisting of Labor & Delivery and NICU nurses and leaders, physicians, respiratory therapists and Operating Room, Engineering and Housekeeping staff to work on what's been called the "Hypothermia Eradication from Admission Temperatures "H.E.A.T." study."
The study resulted in interventions like the use of preheated radiant warmers, thermal mattresses, polypropylene bags and plastic shower caps to prevent infant heat loss upon birth.
Additionally, they increased the room temperature of the delivery room from 74 to 76 degrees, using cooling vests to keep staff comfortable.
Within two years, the percentage of hypothermic infants on NICU admission decreased from 20 to 10 percent, and the percentage of infants with normal temperatures increased from 50 to 70 percent, according to the hospital system.
Christine Evans gave birth to her twins girls at 30 weeks gestation in November.
Emma weighed three pounds and her sister, Abigail, weighed two pounds, 11 ounces.
"We are lucky that I came out okay and that they came out of it OK. The outcome could have been vastly different," Evans said.
Seconds after they were born, both girls were placed into Ziploc freezer bags. Elastic bowl covers were placed on their tiny heads.
"Seeing them in Ziploc bags was very odd. I didn't expect that one," said new father, Jason Evans.
"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.