PLASTIC bags are as effective as incubators in preventing hypothermia in premature and low birth-weight babies, according to research presented in Glasgow.

Sick newborns were shown to warm up to a health body temperature just as quickly regardless of which method was used.

It suggests that plastic bags offer "a feasible and cheaper option" in developing countries, or even in scenarios where hospitals run out of incubators.

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Hypothermia is one of the most common but potentially fatal complications which threaten small or very premature babies.

The research, which was presented at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in Glasgow, was carried out on 100 infants over six months in 2016 at Civil Hospital Karachi, Pakistan, by physician Dr Wajida Mazher.

All the babies had been born before 37 weeks gestation and weighed between 1kg-2.5kg (2.2-5.5Ibs).

Neonates with congenital malformation, skin blisters, open neural tube defects, abdominal wall defects and congenital heart defects were excluded.

The babies averaged a starting body temperature of 34.5C, but after an hour this had typically risen to 37C in both babies wrapped in plastic bags and those who had been incubated.

There was "no significant difference in effectiveness" between the two interventions.

The study states: "Low-cost, low-technology devices such as use of plastic bags, especially in low income countries might be helpful in preventing neonatal hypothermia.

"Wrapping pre-term and low birth weight neonates in plastic bags soon after birth prevent hypothermia and has same outcome as placing them in incubator for prevention of hypothermia."

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Dr Mazher, who was in Glasgow to present her findings, said she had been surprised by results.

She added: "In Pakistan, many times when a pre-term baby was born there was a concept that if it had hypothermia and you couldn't get an incubator, it was going to die.

"Use of plastic bags is not very common - we've just started now - so I just wanted to see how it would go.

"We don't have a lot of incubators and many pre-term babies are being born there, so if plastic bags are as effective in maintaining body temperature then this is a way to improve survival rates."

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Meanwhile, a separate study examined the impact of taking antidepressants during pregnancy.

It found that this was linked to a higher incidence of stillbirths, premature births, low birth weights, neonatal unit admissions, and generally poorer Apgar scores - a measure of physical health in newborns - but concluded that the sample size was too small for the results to be deemed statistically significant.

The sample was drawn from 3842 pregnant women between January 1 and December 31 2016 in Cwm Taf health board in Wales.

Of these, 210 had taken antidepressants at some point in their pregnancy.

There was one stillbirth recorded in the antidepressant cohort, and nine among infants whose mothers had not used the drugs.

This worked out as a rate of 0.48 versus 0.24, but higher smoking rates were also detected among mothers with a history of depression.

The authors stressed that the paper "highlights the need to study a larger population sample for a more accurate analysis of adverse neonatal outcomes".