Any mom who has had a baby in the NICU will tell you that one of the most difficult aspects of the experience is having to be separated from your baby. Even when you know that your baby needs the intensive care the NICU has to offer, it simply tears a mother’s heart apart every time she has to say goodbye to her precious bundle of joy.
Well, one forward-thinking NICU in Vancouver, Canada is trying to remedy that. On October 29th, BC Women’s Hospital will be opening a new NICU located in the new Teck Acute Care Centre. This NICU will offer something that no NICU in North America has thus far: Moms and their NICU babies will be cared for in the same space, and parents will be allowed to stay with their babies 24/7. How fantastic is that?
Julie de Salaberry, director of Neonatal Intensive Care at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre tells Babble that this innovative NICU aims to honor “women’s voices and values,” while dedicating themselves to “improving the health of women, newborns, and families.” In fact, the new NICU was designed in partnership with NICU families “every step of the way,” says de Salaberry, with the goal of creating a nurturing space for moms and their babies.
This new NICU has 70 private rooms, each with all the necessary equipment to care for sick or premature babies. Six of the 70 rooms can accommodate twins, and babies can stay in these rooms for the duration of their stay in the NICU, thus creating a sense of “home” for both baby and family. The rooms were also designed with a calming ambiance in mind. “The extensive use of gardens and natural light add to the sense of well-being for staff and families,” de Salaberry tells Babble.
But hold on, it gets better still. Each room is also equipped with a bed for parents to sleep in, a refrigerator, storage units, and a TV with “pillow” speakers. Additionally, each room has a chair specifically designed for kangaroo care (skin-to-skin holding), as well as a breast pump for mothers to express their milk for their babies. And all of this, is designed with the objective of allowing parents to stay with their babies 24/7.
“Our new design and evolving care model supports an integrated patient and family-centred care where parents are invited to stay with their baby 24/7,” de Salaberry says. “The clinical team works in close partnership with parents who are part of their baby’s clinical Core Care Team and where parents are considered the decision makers for their baby, and are encouraged and supported to provide as much of their babies care as possible, as they wish.”
This “togetherness” of moms and babies begins as soon as the mom gives birth, because in most cases according to de Salaberry, postpartum moms will receive their care in the same room as their babies. As long as the mothers are considered “low risk” and their newborns need level 2 NICU care (meaning babies 33 weeks gestation or more), mom and baby can room together and receive care from the same nursing staff.
“Mothers receive their postpartum care and baby receives NICU care from the same nurse in the same room, thus minimizing or eliminating the separation of mothers and newborns at birth,” de Salaberry explains. “In conventional models, mother and babies needing NICU care are separated soon after birth, where mothers receive their postpartum care on a postpartum unit and baby receives care away from mother in the intensive care unit.”
She tells Babble that this sort of separation causes a lot of undue stress for both moms and babies, stating,“There is substantive literature that reports the single most stressful event for mothers with babies in the NICU is separation, regardless of the severity of illness.” She adds that these higher stress levels in moms have been correlated with poor health outcomes for moms and potential neurodevelopmental problems for babies.
Incredibly, de Salaberry says that the idea for the NICU was sparked by a NICU mom herself. At a hospital design workshop, a veteran NICU mom asked, “Why can’t I have my postpartum care in the room with my baby?” Soon after that, the hospital staff pondered the same question themselves.
“At first, we could not imagine operationalizing this model of care,” recalls de Salaberry. But after a little research, including finding similarly modeled NICUs in Estonia (which had “mother/baby” NICUs back in the 1970s) and Denmark (which currently has “mother/baby” NICUs), they began forming the model for the NICU at The Teck Acute Care Centre. “After much discussion, planning, and program development, we introduced a combined care model for two of our Level 2 beds in our current footprint to test the model,” says de Salaberry.
Although the new NICU doesn’t open for another few days, de Salaberry and her team have high hopes for the new space and its potential benefits for moms and babies.
“We anticipate improved infant and maternal care outcomes, including a reduction in length of stay for mothers and newborns, improved/optimized attachment, and an overall improved experience for mothers and newborns by reducing maternal stress,” says de Salaberry. The hope is that these outcomes will have a long-term impact on moms and their NICU babies, and that parents will generally feel more confident and bonded with their babies at discharge.
What an amazing vision de Salaberry and her team have for this NICU. The opportunity for extra cuddles, bonding, and closeness sounds like just what the doctor ordered for so many moms and their sweet NICU babies. And if this new NICU is as successful as it sounds like it will be, perhaps it can serve as a blueprint for NICUs far and wide so that moms and babies everywhere can benefit from the bonded care experience.