For those who enjoy learning about how the tiniest human “patients” are being ever-better treated, today’s Wall Street Journal
article “What Parents can do to help Preemies” is must reading.
NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units in hospitals) are little seedbeds of research on how to assist babies who were delivered too early. The generous care and dedication that babies have received from NICU staff, especially nurses, is truly commendable.
However, a trial program is demonstrating that daily physical care by the preemies’ parents is not only preferable, it is a win-win, according to the Journal’s Dana Wechsler Linden.
“Typically, babies born prematurely, who might weigh little more than a pound, are considered too fragile for anyone but highly trained doctors and nurses to care for,” Linden explained. But a pilot program at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital (which has spread to 20 hospitals in Canada and 10 in Australia and New Zealand) took a very different approach. Parents took charge of their preemie’s care for at least eight hours a day.
The pilot program showed that 42 premature newborns cared for each day by their parents gained 25% more weight and were nearly twice as likely to be breastfeeding when they went home as those taken care of primarily by nurses.
A potential fear that multiple caregivers would increase infections (that can be so deadly for these tiny 1-2 pound babies) is negated. While 11% of the babies in the nurse-only group had infections, the parent-assisting group had none!
In the pilot program parents were successfully trained how to handle fragile babies and the medical equipment they use. And though the initial steps were a bit daunting, a wonderful benefit was reaped not only by babies but also by their parents.
For example, parents of preemies are, understandably, concerned about their baby’s fate. By being involved, not only did the preemies greatly benefit, parental stress levels went down.
“This started because parents told me they feel hopeless, helpless,” said Shoo Lee, chief of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, who led the group that developed the new approach.
“Within the first three days I learned everything I needed to do,” Cynthia Schaeffer, whose son, Joshua, was born after 26 weeks of gestation at just over 2 pounds, told Linden. “I started feeling like a mother.”