Today is World Prematurity Day and I thought it would be appropriate to hear from one of our own families about their experience with a daughter who was born early at Clements University Hospital.
In 2014, slightly fewer than 1 in 10 babies born in the United States was born prematurely, or before 37 weeks of gestation. In 40 percent to 45 percent of those pregnancies, spontaneous contractions start and lead to delivery. Spontaneous rupture of membranes – when the bag of water that the baby is in just breaks or starts leaking – accounts for about 30 percent to 35 percent of all cases of premature birth. In the remainder of preterm deliveries, we feel there’s too much risk to the mother or the baby of if the pregnancy continues – and we make the decision to deliver the baby early.
Having a baby in the intensive care nursery is stressful for any parent – but especially for those families with premature infants who will spend weeks or months in the hospital. After staying hours at the bedside and returning home, you can get a call that your child’s condition has changed suddenly. The time spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be hard on other family members, especially small children who are at home. And it can take a toll on your job performance – not just the unanticipated time off, but the distraction of wondering how your new baby is doing.
We’ve tried to help families balance all of these competing concerns with some new technology in our NICU at Clements: cameras in each baby’s room that live stream nearly 24 hours a day, with the camera only turned off during some procedures or exams. This allows the parents to watch their infants from home – or really anywhere they need to be – on tablets or smartphones.
Dr. Junaid Kalia tells the story of his and his wife Aisha’s experience with the NICU cameras following the premature birth of their daughter.
Our daughter, Aiza, was born in April 2015 at just 25 weeks. She is our first child, and we weren’t expecting to deliver so early. We’re not sure why she arrived as early as she did.
When my wife, Aisha, went into labor, we called to let the hospital know we were coming, and because Aiza was so premature, they alerted the NICU. Aiza was born two hours after we got to the hospital, but before she was born, we were able to talk with someone from the NICU about what to expect.
Aisha was in the hospital for two days and wasn’t able to visit Aiza right away. However, thanks to the NICU web camera in Aiza’s room, Aisha was able to see our little girl on the TV in her room. We found this visual connection to our daughter to be incredibly important, especially for Aisha as she was recovering and while she was pumping breast milk. Even though we couldn’t hold Aiza, it helped that we could see her.
It’s very hard to go home and leave your child in a hospital. Aiza was being fed through a tube and, while not truly intubated, was on a CPAP machine to help her breathe. And she was so new, so little.
We were lucky because we live close to the hospital, but when we couldn’t be there, we still could watch her on our phones or through our computers. The hospital gave us a username and password to access the camera feed, which we also shared with Aiza’s grandparents.
Aisha was able to spend much of the day with Aiza in her room, but I was working long shifts, so having this access to Aiza was especially important to me. I could pull up the live stream video feed in between rounds and watch her. It’s almost harder now that I still work those long shifts but I no longer have video access!
Having the video access also made us feel like we were partners with the nurses caring for Aiza, even when we couldn’t be in the room with her. It was comforting to know that we could watch over our daughter, and if something didn’t seem right, we could call to ask the NICU nurse to check on her. Her grandmother even called us and asked us to turn on the video because she thought something looked funny. It helped make us feel safe, knowing there were extra sets of eyes on her.
If we couldn’t be at the hospital for a feeding, the nurses would let us know what time it would be and the video allowed us to still feel like we were a part of the process. This was true for diaper changing as well!
Aiza spent 78 days in the NICU, and there was no way we could have been in the NICU that entire time. We were thankful for the web camera and the ability to see her even when we were at home, working, or running errands.
For those families who do not live as close to the hospital as we do, we’re sure the web cameras are even more important to feeling connected to their new sons or daughters.
Cameras in the NICU aren’t the only family-centric practice we offer. There are no limits to how long parents can stay with their baby. Each baby has his or her own private room with a sofa that folds out into a bed so parents can spend the night. When a baby is close to leaving the hospital, parents “practice” caring for their baby in a room set up like a bedroom at their home so they can be completely comfortable with all aspects of newborn care. Family-centered rounding allows families to listen to doctors, nurses, and other providers discuss their baby’s daily plans for treatment or testing – and have the opportunity to ask their own questions. And parents have the mobile phone number of the nurse watching over their baby to make communication easier.
Delivering prematurely is the exception to the rule, but for those babies and parents who do find themselves having to spend extended time in the NICU, we want to make the experience of having a premature infant under our care the best it can be.