Have you ever been in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where the babies are housed in one big room? These so-called "baby barns" are busy, yes, but they're also incredibly noisy. Besides the normal cries and coos, there are alarms and alerts sounding regularly from monitors hooked up to the infants. In other words, it's probably the least relaxing place for exhausted parents and growing preemies to be.
Now, there's further evidence to confirm that the traditional one-big-room layout may not be best for baby. As reported in Medline Plus, researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have found that premature infants are better off when their hospital sets them up in a private room with their families. The study, published last month in the journal Pediatrics, involved more than 400 preterm newborns at the hospital's NICU between 2008 and 2012, when the unit switched from an open-bay layout to private rooms.
According to the findings, not only are babies more relaxed and alert in their own room, they gain weight faster -- a number doctors track closely. The extra space and quiet also give hospital staff a chance to more closely observe each baby and offer extra support when needed.
But parents' involvement is also key to a preemie's progress, and a single room can give moms and dads a much-needed chance to bond in peace. In fact, researchers discovered that women with babies in private NICU rooms engaged in more skin-to-skin contact and bathed and breastfed more often. And though they didn't go home any sooner, preemies in private rooms did require fewer medical procedures. "Parents do make a difference," says lead researcher Barry Lester, who directs the hospital's Center for the Study of Children at Risk. "They don't have to feel like they're just bystanders, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best."
Tell us: Did your baby have to stay in the NICU after birth? Did you have enough opportunities to care for and bond with baby there?
Image of mom holding newborn courtesy of Shutterstock