New parents want to spend every moment possible bonding with their baby, but when a newborn is whisked off to a neonatal intensive care unit, getting that time together can be hard. The traditional NICU model sees premature, low birth weight and otherwise ill infants separated from their parents and lined up alongside other babies in incubators. But in a North American first, a fresh approach to neonatal intensive care is keeping moms and babies together, as roommates.
The new NICU in the Teck Acute Care Centre on the combined campus of BC Children's Hospital and BC Women's Hospitals in Vancouver allows new mothers to stay in the same single room with their baby, to promote bonding and reduce stress while the babies get stronger.
“This model of care means less separation for families and is a key way to help ensure these vulnerable babies get the very best start in life,” says BC’s Health Minister Adrian Dix.
The new NICU has specialized rooms where low-risk mothers will get postpartum care while their sick or premature newborn is cared for by the same nurse. The new system will see babies benefit from the same kind of bonding healthy babies get when they room-in with mom.
The new concept is a win-win for moms and babies, as both experience less stress when they can stay together.
Studies have shown that parents of NICU newborns are at increased risk for postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders, and other research indicates that NICU babies benefit from skin-to-skin contact, which parents can’t provide if they’re stuck in another room of the hospital.
A 2016 study published in the journal Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews noted many parents of preemies report feeling left out of their child’s care on the NICU, and according to CBC news, the hospital believes there’s evidence to suggest some NICU moms skip their own medical appointments following a premature birth to stay by their baby's side instead.
What makes this new concept so great isn’t just that mom and baby get to stay together, but how they get to stay. The single rooms offer some privacy, as well as comfy chairs perfect for skin-to-skin contact (or a weary co-parent) and a fridge and private cupboard space (to stash all mom’s non-hospital food in).
Parents of premature babies will tell you they practically live at the hospital, and this new NICU recognizes that, allowing parents access to laundry and shower facilities.
The new NICU is bringing the concept of family-centered care to those who need it most, and will hopefully inspire similar overhauls in more North American hospitals.