Supporting Families in the NICU
Ten percent of all newborns in the United States require specialized care in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) due to prematurity, birth defects, or other serious health problems. The hospitalization of a baby in a NICU can be one of the most frightening, confusing, and overwhelming experiences a parent will ever face.
NICU Initiatives (NICU Family Support® Signature Programs and NICU Family Support Centers) are hands-on examples of how the March of Dimes is working to change this situation nationwide and in Florida.
Thanks to support from the Florida Wal-Mart Foundation, the March of Dimes Florida Chapter provides NICU Family Support Centers in 13 hospitals statewide. The Centers consist of a computer with controlled internet access to family support sites in both English and Spanish, along with sensitive and engaging print materials – both designed to help make the NICU experience more manageable for families. Print resources offered to families through the Center program include informative and comforting booklets about the parenting in the NICU, preparing to take baby home from the NICU, and a glossary and guide to the NICU experience. Also available through the Centers are information sheets devoted to the dads, grandparents, and siblings of the hospitalized newborn.
These specials sites can be found at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, Tampa General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies and Walt Disney Pavilion at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando, Chris Evert’s Children’s Hospital at Broward General in Fort Lauderdale, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital at Memorial in Hollywood, Shands Jacksonville and Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial in Miami, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Palm Beach, and Gulf Coast Medical Center in Panama City.
March of Dimes NICU Family Support® signature program at Shands Hospital in Gainesville helps nearly 800 families each year whose babies are admitted to the NICU.
Families receive emotional support and needed information in the NICU setting, during the transition home and in the event of an infant death. An on-site NICU Family Support Specialist is in the NICU daily, interacting with families, discerning their unique needs and directing them to appropriate resources. The specialist connects families with other NICU “graduate” parents who have “been there, done that” and can give support from the special place of the shared NICU experience.
Activities, designed to give parents a break from the high-stress NICU setting and afford them the opportunity to connect with other families, are provided on a regular basis. Families are treated to a free lunch each week. Twice weekly crafts sessions allow them to preserve their babies’ first days through scrapbooking or to make a hat, jewelry, or a memory box for their little one. Special holiday observations are planned, such as the annual Thanksgiving Morning Brunch, to help give some normalcy to their hospital-centered lives. The Signature program provides a customized Parent Care Kit to each family with a NICU admission. In addition to the print materials available through the Centers , others items, such as local resource lists, a disposable camera and tips for taking photos in the NICU and aids for helping siblings cope, are included.