A new study is testing the crazy idea that parents might help care for their own babies who are born prematurely:
The idea is to put parents in charge for at least eight hours a day of taking care of their babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Typically, babies born prematurely, who might weigh little more than a pound, are considered too fragile for anyone but highly trained doctors and nurses to care for.
“Yes, they are fragile. But parents aren’t the source of bad things that can happen, they’re the source of good things that can happen,” says Dr. Douglas McMillan, a neonatologist at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one of the study sites.
The study, being conducted at 20 hospitals in Canada and 10 in Australia and New Zealand, follows a pilot program at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital that involved 42 premature newborns. The outcome: Preemies cared for by their parents gained 25% more weight and were nearly twice as likely to be breastfeeding when they went home as those taken care of primarily by nurses. Infections, 11% in the nurse group, fell to zero in the parent group.