Advances in the care of sick and premature babies include new technology and medicine, as well as treatments that focus on the special emotional and developmental needs of these babies. Babies in the NICU face many tests, procedures, noises, and lights. This is very different from the warm, dark, comfort of the mother's womb. Some babies are too sick to be held or have difficulty comforting themselves when not being held. Premature babies especially need special support to help them continue to mature and develop as they would in their mother's womb.
The practice of developmental care is used in many NICUs to meet babies' special needs. Developmental care involves many aspects: from meeting comfort needs and helping babies feel secure and develop normal sleep patterns, to decreasing stimulation from noise, lights, or procedures. Research into developmental care is finding many benefits for babies, especially for premature babies, including shorter hospital stays, fewer complications, improved weight gain, better feeding, and enhanced parent and infant bonding.
Developmental care includes:
Changing the baby's surroundings to provide normal day/night cycles and decrease noise and stress
Providing cushions for supporting the baby's position and keeping the baby's arms and legs in proper arrangement to help with development and comfort
Using signals from the baby to plan care at times when the baby is awake and least stressed rather than interrupting sleep patterns or performing procedures when the baby is at a high stress level
Kangaroo Care is a practice that started in Colombia in the late 1970s. It has been used worldwide because it is especially helpful for premature babies. Kangaroo Care means holding an NICU baby skin-to-skin (against the parent's chest) for varying lengths of time. Premature and sick babies that "kangaroo" appear to relax and become content. Several studies show that Kangaroo Care has many health benefits, including:
Higher blood oxygen levels
Improved weight gain
Kangaroo Care also helps parents feel close to their baby, and gives them confidence in their ability to meet their baby's needs. Mothers who "kangaroo" also show improved breast milk production.