Mothers who give birth to preemies experience a wide range of emotions. To make matters worse the infant will be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and will remain there for several weeks or months after the mother is discharged.
This standard practice can be very stressing for mothers and physicians are saying that it may not be in the best interest of a baby with health problems. After the mother is discharged, the parents will need to travel back and forth to see their infant. NICUs are often crowded, leaving little room for privacy, which makes it extremely difficult for mothers and infants to bond.
Several hospitals are taking steps to change the culture of NICUs and in turn reduce the time it takes for babies to recover and costs. Carroll Hospital is currently working on a program that will allow mothers to keep their newborns with them, even premature babies. The “couplet care” program will allow mothers and infants to remain together until the baby is discharged. During the hospitalization, nurses and other staff will coach mothers on caring for their infants.
In 2012, Mercy Medical Center began a similar program, when its new women’s center opened.
It is standard practice for mothers and healthy newborns to remain in the same room until discharge, but only a few hospitals offer this type of care for mothers and newborns.
“We know if the baby is being held more and taken care of by the mom and family the baby’s vital signs stabilize,” said Dr. Cynthia Rolden, Carroll Hospital’s director of pediatric hospitalists. “They recover more quickly and are able t be discharged earlier.”
The new approach is modeled after a program developed by the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden. The physicians at the hospital discovered that nurturing and bonding between mother and baby aids in recovery. Officials at Carroll Hospital hope the couplet care program will help the growing number of newborns addicted to opioids.
It’s been seven years, since the Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire launched the same program and is seeing a reduction in medical costs, because critically ill babies are staying in NICUs two to four weeks less than they once did. The babies are breastfeeding before they are discharged.
Since the baby is the patient and not the mother, couplet care will not cost more and mothers aren’t force to stay the entire time their newborn is hospitalized. In fact, they can return to work or home and care for siblings.
The level IV NICU at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital is one of two in the state. The Rouben and Violet Jiji Neonatal Intensive Care Unit provides care for babies with cardiac, surgical and genetic conditions and low birth weight.
The level 2 NICU at Carroll Hospital sees less severe cases, such as preemies born at 32 weeks or later. Greg and Robert Kahlert donated $2 million to start the couplet care program, which will be part of a $13.5 million renovation project.