An extremely preterm baby girl survived against the odds after being kept warm in bubble wrap.

After cutting the umbilical cord, staff at Worcestershire Royal Hospital in the UK put the baby girl in a small plastic bag enclosed in bubble wrap and warned her parents that her chances of survival were not good.

But Lexi Lacey, who weighed just 14 oz (397 gm) when she was born after only 26 weeks gestation, defied the odds, she is now a healthy 11-week old baby, despite weighing just 5 lb 6 oz, two pounds lighter than the average full-term baby.

Dr Andrew Gallagher, A consultant paediatrician at the hospital told the Daily Mail that it was normal to wrap very small newborns in plastic “to keep them warm they are placed in a plastic bag for about 30 minutes,” he said.

Parents Chelsea Rowberry, 17, and Lee Lacey, 24, said that when people see Lexi they can’t believe how premature she was.

Rowberry said she was staying at her brother’s when she started feeling contractions, late one Sunday in June. She said she rang the maternity unit but they just told her to go to sleep.

So she rang her mother who immediately called an ambulance. She said she was frightened because she thought she was having a miscarriage.

When she got to the hospital they told her she was 3 cm dilated and she gave birth to Lexi.

Soon afterwards, the hospital staff put Lexi in the bubble wrap plastic bag.

Gallagher said they put the premature babies into the bag feet first leaving just the head outside. This stops water evaporating easily off their bodies, which would cause them to lose heat quickly in those vital first minutes of life before they get to the incubator.

The babies are then transferred to the neonatal unit where they are placed in an incubator and taken out of the bag.

He said the bags are about the same size as a sandwich bag, and they “come from NHS supplies and are on a roll”.

Although her mother was able to go home on the same day she was born, little Lexi was transferred to Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital and then to Shrewsbury Royal Hospital to receive specialist care. She eventually returned to Worcestershire Royal.

Lexi’s parents were very scared she would not survive. Rowberry said they would get calls from the hospital like Lexi “needed a blood transfusion and she probably wouldn’t make it through the night”.

Although her baby has been given the all clear, Rowberry said she is still scared because Lexi is so tiny. She is the most premature baby to survive at the hospital.

A premature baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. A baby born between 35 and 37 weeks is described as moderately pre-term, between 29 and 34 weeks as very pre-term, and between 24 and 28 weeks, as extremely pre-term.

A low birthweight baby weighs less than 1.5 kg (5.5 lbs), while an extremely low birthweight baby weighs less than 1.0 kg (2.2 lbs). Lexi weighed less than half of this when she was born.

Because they are born too early, premature babies often have health problems because their organs are undeveloped. As a result they can be at higher risk for a range of problems such as breathing difficulties and serious lung conditions like respiratory distress syndrome, cerebral palsy, life-threatening infections, and learning and development disabilities.

In England and Wales nearly 8 per cent, that is 1 in 13 live births are pre-term, with 93 per cent of them occuring after 28 weeks of pregnancy, 6 per cent between 22 and 27 weeks and just under 1 per cent before 22 weeks.

A study of babies born before 26 weeks in the UK and Ireland in the mid-1990s (the EPICure study) showed that 81 per cent of those born at 24 weeks survived, whereas only half of those born at 22 weeks survived.

The study also found, when it re-examined the children at age 11, that those born earlier than 26 weeks of pregnancy had lower scores for cognitive ability, reading and mathematics.

In the US, the incidence of pre-term live births appears to have increased: it was nearly 13 per cent in 2005, which is significantly higher than the 5 to 10 per cent of other resource-rich countries.

Sources: Daily Mail, Tommy’s, Medline Plus.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD