Imagine being the parent of a premature baby being cared for in the neonatal ICU unit. You want to be involved in the daily care of your child, but you don't know what to do. What's more, you are not even sure if your involvement is appropriate. Well, you can relax. A new study shows that parental involvement in the ICU benefits both parents and premature babies alike.
It is absolutely normal for the parents of premature babies to step back and let medical staff do everything. After all, they are the experts. But a study of 26 neonatal ICUs in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada revealed that parental involvement is a good thing. The study looked at 895 babies born at 33 weeks or earlier, cared for in the ICU, as well as 891 babies receiving standard care.
To understand the importance of the study's results, it's equally important to know how the parents in the study were actually involved. Medical staff encouraged them to take part in a range of clinical decisions regarding the direction of care their children received. They were encouraged to participate in ward rounds and chart the progress and growth of their children.
In terms of day-to-day tasks, parents were encouraged to participate in:
There were some tasks parents were not allowed to do, like adjusting oxygen levels. Participating parents had to commit to education sessions and being at their babies' bedsides for a minimum of six hours per day, five days per week.
The results of parental involvement among those families that did participate in the programme were astounding. For example, the babies whose families selected to participate in the programme put on more weight and demonstrated a higher average daily weight gain after just 21 days. Weight gain is extremely important to premature babies, as every parent of a preemie knows.
Equally important is the fact that parents gradually developed the confidence they needed to take their babies home. Rather than being viewed merely as visitors in the ICU, participating parents actually became partners in caring for their own children. This equipped them to take on full responsibility when baby was finally released to go home.
In short, the study showed that baby health improves when parents are involved in ICU decisions and care. The mental and emotional health of parents improves as well. Even hospital staff do better because they have the assistance of parents who are obviously interested in the health and welfare of the children.
With the results of the study so convincing, we now need to do something with the information gleaned. It is time to begin implementing systemic changes in neonatal ICU policies, procedures, and standards of care. The parents of premature babies need to be encouraged to actively participate in the decision-making and day-to-day care that goes into caring for their babies.
If we can get more parents involved while the babies are still in the hospital, we should be able to improve neonatal ICU care exponentially. The end result will be healthier babies along with parents better equipped to care for their children once time in the hospital ends. This is one point that cannot be over emphasised.
So many parents feel inadequate when it's time to take the baby home. If we can turn that around, the task of caring for premature baby will not be so overwhelming for many of them.