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 Chapter managed sites and hospital license programs) are hands-on examples of how the March of Dimes is working to change this situation nationwide and in Florida.
March of Dimes NICU Family Support® program provides information and comfort to families during the NICU hospitalization of their newborn, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn death. The program also contributes to NICU staff professional development and promotes the philosophy of family-centered care throughout NICUs. NICU Family Support® is currently active in more than 128 hospitals across the country, is offered in every state, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico and serves more than 85,000 families annually.
March of Dimes Florida Chapter is proud to provide NICU Family Support® for families whose babies are hospitalized at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville. It helps nearly 700 families each year whose babies are admitted to the NICU.
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.
Print resources offered to families include informative and comforting booklets about parenting in the NICU, preparing to take a baby home from the NICU, a glossary and guide to the NICU experience and a special baby book customized for NICU babies. Also available are information sheets devoted to the dads, grandparents and siblings of the hospitalized newborn.
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 held, 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, others items, such as local resource lists, tips for taking photos in the NICU and aids for helping siblings cope, are included.
Another model of this program is the NICU Family Support® Web & Print program. This partnership represents a join investment from the host hospital and March of Dimes in supporting families and staff in the NICU. Through the program, parents with a baby in the NICU have access to high quality educational materials both in print and online. There is also a unique webpage for families and professional education for NICU staff. This program is offered North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville.