Our Stories

NICU initiative gives parents opportunity to play larger role in newborns’ care

Toronto, April 21, 2016

By Rebecca Goss

Violeta Palmares helps a mother care for her newborn
Violeta Palmares, a nurse in the NICU, helps a mother care for her newborn. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Parents will be able to play a much larger role in their child’s care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit starting this spring.

The NICU will pilot a family integrated care project, allowing parents to participate in rounds, contribute to the care plan, assist in feedings, change diapers and write any developments, improvements or concerns in a parent version of their baby’s chart.

Increased participation in these activities allows for better communication between parents and health-care providers and allows parents the opportunity to start making decisions sooner in their newborn’s life, said Dr. Ethel Ying, a pediatrician in the NICU.

Nurses will be instrumental initially to coach, teach and support parents in the care of the baby, gradually weaning their “hands on” involvement as parents become comfortable.

At other hospitals, this program has shown a decrease in length of stay for the newborns and in the incidence of hospital-acquired infection. As well, infants participating in family integrated care breastfeed more frequently and gain weight faster. The stress levels also decrease as parents become more confident around their baby, said Dr. Ying.

“Everyone in the NICU benefits from this program,” said Dr. Ying. “The babies are healthier and leave sooner, the parents are more comfortable with their child who spent their first days and months in the hospital, and nurses get to take on a facilitator role to help parents achieve that confidence.”

“The babies are healthier and leave sooner, the parents are more comfortable with their child and nurses get to take on a facilitator role to teach the parents.” – Dr. Ethel Ying, a NICU pediatrician

Moms and dads will also receive support and education from other parents as part of a biweekly parent education group. Dr. Ying said this kind of networking allows parents to share experiences and advice.

“It’s great when parents are able to meet and bond with other parents in the NICU,” said Dr. Ying. “They know what each other are experiencing and can support each other.”

Mary Murphy, clinical leader manager for Obstetrics and Gynecology and the NICU, said this program fits in nicely with the NICU’s baby cuddling program, where carefully selected volunteers cuddle infants when their parents can’t be present.

“We’re taking patient and family engagement one step further and actually embedding parents in their newborns’ care,” said Murphy.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

See More of Our Stories in 2016