"Prematurity is a crisis for the whole family," says Jay Greenspan, M.D., who co-chairs Pennsylvania's Prematurity Campaign for the March of Dimes. "Premature babies often can't be held by their mothers or fathers and bond in the way you would expect. They are in an environment where lights go on and off and monitors beep constantly. Ideally, they should be in nurseries with plenty of space so parents can be with their infants, go on rounds with the doctors who treat them, and be intimately involved in decisions about their babies' care."
Recognizing the need for family involvement, the March of Dimes' Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Family Support project has been working with the Children's Hospital in Denver, Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio, and the Greenville Hospital System Children's Hospital in South Carolina to make the NICU experience more comfortable for parents, sibings, and grandparents. Videos, information sheets, and a March of Dimes staff member at each site help family members cope while the infant is in the hospital, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn death. The program will be expanded to 50 additional hospitals by 2007.
While there's no denying the serious risks of prematurity, other developments in the last decade are improving the survival rate and quality of life for these tiny, fragile infants. They include: