A new study has found that involving parents as much as possible in the care of their babies can have a positive impact on both the baby’s and parents’ health and wellbeing.
The international trial, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, found that family integrated care led to improved weight gain in premature babies, better breastfeeding rates and reduced stress and anxiety in parents.
In the trial, 26 NICUs in Canada, Australia and New Zealand were randomly assigned to either implement the Family Integrated Care (FICare) programme or standard care.
Although most units already promote family-centred care, FICare integrates the family as the primary care givers. The hospitals that implemented FICare for the trial had to provide families with a rest space, sleeping rooms, reclining chairs at their baby’s bedside, free parking and a nurse trained in family support.
Parents had to commit to spending at least six hours a day, five days a week at the hospital. Their duties as the primary caregiver included: bathing, feeding, dressing, nappy changing, giving medication and taking temperature. They were also encouraged to attend ward rounds, take part in clinical decisions and charting their infant’s growth.
21 days into the trial, the FICare group had put on more weight than the standard care group. Parents in the FICare group also had lower levels of stress and anxiety and – after discharge – mothers in the FICare group were more likely to breastfeed at least six times a day.
Lead researcher, Dr Karel O’Brien, who hosted the Bliss FICare conference last April, said: "Parents are too often perceived as visitors to the intensive care unit. Our findings challenge this approach and show the benefits to both infants and their families of incorporating parents as key members of the infant’s health care team, and helping parents to assume the role of primary caregiver as soon as possible."
Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss said: "This new research adds to the multitude of evidence which shows that enabling parents to take an active role in their baby’s care significantly improves outcomes for babies born premature or sick.
"At Bliss, we champion the key role of parents in taking a hands-on approach in their baby’s care, not only for the baby’s development but also to instil confidence in the parents as primary caregivers. We know that when parents are empowered to look after their own baby on the neonatal unit this has multiple positive outcomes for babies – including reduced readmission rates and higher rates of breastfeeding – as well as a number of benefits to the parents’ mental health, and their bonding with their baby.
"This new study highlights the need for parents to be supported to spend as much time as they want with their baby in hospital. Neonatal units across the country must be properly funded to provide sufficient overnight accommodation and financial support – such as meal vouchers and free car parking - to parents so that they are able to play a full role in their baby’s care throughout their stay on a neonatal unit."
Find out how Bliss supports healthcare professionals to deliver the best care for babies on neonatal units