What’s the best way to take care of a preemie?
Teach caregivers to follow the baby’s lead, say experts who developed the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP).
The program was developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston about 25 years ago.
In Phoenix, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center just became the 11th NIDCAP training center in the United States. There now 20 centers around the world.
The NIDCAP approach encourages caregivers to look at babies born prematurely — well before term — through a different lens.
Trainers teach anyone who interacts with the baby to observe their behavior closely to determine what their needs are at any particular time. “We learn how to read the baby’s cues,” says NICU physical therapist Bonnie Moyer.
Preemies may stretch out and splay their hands wide; they may hiccup. Their respiratory rates, even their coloring, can change. Before NIDCAP, those behaviors weren’t considered to be of any consequence. If a diaper change or other routine care procedure was on the schedule, caregivers didn’t hesitate.
NIDCAP researchers discovered, however, that these simple cues were often indicators of stress — which thwarts the baby’s growth and development. When stress is reduced, and caregivers tune in to what the baby really needs, behavioral outcomes improve. That means enhanced brain function, a shorter hospital stay and better weight gain.
“The training opens your eyes to the world of the babies, their behavioral functioning,” says Marla Wood, R.N., one of the two St. Joe’s NIDCAP trainers. “They are constantly talking to you, and you have to take the time to stop and listen to what they are saying through your observation of them. And then you can learn their strengths, their competencies, their vulnerabilities — and find ways to support that.”
NIDCAP is a multidisciplinary approach. Wood and Moyer hope to train speech, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, psychologists and developmental pediatricians in the observation and care techniques. Parents and caregivers will learn the techniques and actively participate in caring for their babies in the NICU.
It’s a huge eye opener and so rewarding, says Moyer, “to see these families just take hold of it and really feel empowered and want to help their babies…and know they can help their babies with this care.”
More about Robinson and Harper on Lori’s blog.