New cozy cloths aid preemies' development
Toronto, May 13, 2017
By James Wysotski
Juanita Mark holds her son Benson in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Photo by Katie Cooper)
Parents of premature babies in St. Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cannot be at their child’s side 24-7, but now a piece of them can.
With the recent launch of the NICU Cozy Cloth Program, parents can leave a triangular piece of fabric with their scent under their infant’s head in the isolette or bassinette.
“Parents worry about bonding with their baby when they leave at the end of the day, so it’s a huge source of comfort that their baby can still smell them,” said Amanda Hignell, the social worker from the NICU who developed the program.
Parents receive two cozy cloths and are encouraged to wear them under their clothes for 20 minutes so that their scent can permeate the fabric. While the cloths are sized and shaped to fit easily into bras, Hignell said both parents can take part. However, all research to date has focused on the mother-baby relationship.
Introducing odours of the mother’s breast milk or amniotic fluid is soothing to babies and helps improve their neurodevelopment, said Hignell. Another benefit is reduced crying, she said, as well as eliciting a suckling reflex, which is important because that skill is challenging to preemies younger than 35 weeks – and NICU babies tend to be much younger. Teaching babies to suck helps get them feeding sooner by mouth instead of nasal-gastric tubes.
To help make cozy cloths, email Jannie Henkelman at email@example.com.
While no studies explain the benefits of fathers leaving their scents, Hignell said she hoped to facilitate paternal bonding as well.
“A lot of dads do skin-to-skin kangaroo care while in the hospital, and we know the babies thrive with that, so I can't imagine why cozy cloths with their scents wouldn't work the same way,” said Hignell.
While cozy cloths are new for St. Michael’s, the idea isn’t. A few babies transferred from other hospitals’ NICUs arrived with cozy cloths. Sensing the added comfort for both parents and infants, Hignell said staff here wanted to start a similar program.
Hignell enlisted the help of volunteer Jannie Henkelman, a NICU baby-cuddler, to run the new program. Together, they got Fabricland to donate all of the materials. Henkelman co-ordinates the distribution of patterns and materials to volunteer sewers, as well as the pickup of finished products.
Volunteer Jannie Henkelman, the co-ordinator of the Cozy Cloth Program, tends to Benson Mark, a premature infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Photo by Katie Cooper)
The crew has already made 250 cozy cloths. But with 30 admissions per month to the NICU, Henkelman said the need for more is great.
Volunteering for this task is rewarding, said Henkelman. “How satisfying it is to be able to do something as simple as this to enhance the bonding process between preemies and their parents.”
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 more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, 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.