Having a premature infant or one with medical complications that require the special services of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is an emotional and medical roller coaster.
“That’s why the family-centered philosophy of care at the Children’s Hospital NICU is so important,” says Catherine Amato-Bowden, RNC, coordinator of the high-risk infant follow-up program at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Babies and Parents in Mind
Family-centered care means caring not only for the complicated medical needs of a fragile newborn, but also the emotional ups and downs of the parents.
From crib side rocking chairs to freezers to store mom’s milk, from homemade isolette covers to scrapbooking projects, the NICU environment and its staff provide the support NICU parents’ need.
“A NICU can be a daunting place. Parents experiencing a loss of control in decision making and care for their children can become very anxious,” says Amato-Bowden. “Besides taking care of the baby, we have to take care of our families.”
Parents are free to visit any time. There are change rooms and secure lockers for their belongings. The NICU has two new private lounges for parents. With a generous grant from the Caitlin Elizabeth Russell Foundation, one of them is a spacious room where all family members can gather for support or simply to have a meal and watch television. There is a gaming station for older siblings as well. Siblings may participate in the special visiting program and join the sibling group coordinated by the Child Life program. The second smaller lounge is a “quiet” area for parents with ports and a computer desk. They also are encouraged to create a journal and scrapbook, join support groups, and engage in other projects coordinated by the Child Life Team
Additional computers and quiet space are located in the hospital’s Family Resource Center.
The NICU features recessed soundproof ceilings and soft, adjustable lighting. There are many windows to let in natural light. “Designers paid particular attention to noise and light because harsh light and sound are not healthy for small babies,” says Barry Weinberger, MD, co-chief of the Division of Neonatology at the hospital and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“NICUs can be noisy, hectic, crowded places with monitors and alarms going off all the time. Tiny babies are very sensitive to light and sound. We wanted this to be as quiet, spacious, and soothing as possible for babies and their families. This is the first NICU in the state to incorporate these baby-friendly concepts into the design,” Weinberger says.
“Teaching parents how to care for their babies is another big part of family-centered care,” Amato-Bowden says. The NICU features a “transition room,” a place completely equipped for special infant care and comforts for parents can who can spend the night with their baby and practice how to care for them before they leave the hospital. “Our goal is to give the family confidence and alleviate some of the anxiety about the transition home,” she says.
With a generous grant from the Caitlin Elizabeth Russell Foundation, the NICU offers the NICU Knowledge Parent Education system to help our parents learn about the NICU and their role in caring for their baby.