August 14, 2005

Making The NICU More Baby-Friendly

The NYT Magazine profiles the efforts of Harvard child developmental psychologist Heidelise Als to help premature babies by making the NICU more supportive of kids' brain development, not just their phsyical survival. What that involves: making the NICU more womb-like, and making the baby's own experience and POV a prime consideration. Sounds like a no-brainer to me (no pun intended).

In 2003, Als and a dozen colleagues reported on the effectiveness of a treatment program that requires doctors and nurses to deliver food and care on a schedule that gives the infants more time to rest, relax and sleep. The care was organized around the needs of the individual infants and families, instead of the work schedules of the doctors and nurses. The findings were remarkable. The babies moved more quickly from intravenous to oral feeding. They spent less time in the N.I.C.U. and had fewer infections, better motor skills and a better ability to focus their attention. They grew faster. And their families displayed less stress and had better relationships with their children. The study provided "clear evidence for the effectiveness of individualized developmental care," the researchers concluded.
Still, Als has had limited success.

A Second Womb [nytmag]


Our son was given "developmentally appropriate care" in the NICU - in fact one of the very NICU's Als uses for her research - and he is doing wonderfully. While in the NICU, he always responded better (higher oxygen saturation levels, steady heartbeat, nice even respirations) when recieving developmental care. Our nurses were supportive and helped us learn how to tell when he was over-stimulated by watching for the smallest cues. Now that he is home, I am much more in tune with his needs because of this training. While I know that there needs to be more research done, I feel my son is doing as well as he is because of the kind of care she advocates. We are grateful that there are doctors out there who do consider the point-of-view of a tiny, sick infant who is thrust into the world far too soon.

Excellent article, thanks for sharing! Dr. Als' work was also featured in the first episode of the wonderful PBS series, The Secret Life of the Brain.

(and doesn't all that focus on recreating the womb environment in order to promote bonding and healthy intellectual development in the baby sound a little AP-ish? heehee, let the debate rage on...)

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