Parental contact reduces time in hospital

Family-centred care, where parents live on the ward 24/7 with their premature baby, has been an option in Stockholm for a number of years. Paediatric nurse and researcher Annika Örtenstrand has studied what effects this has.

Annika Örtenstrand. Photo: Miami Parik

Why is family-centred care important for premature babies?

All babies in hospital need their parents, and parents need to be near their babies. Otherwise there is a risk of the bond between parent and child being delayed or maybe never materialising. This may be down to the child, but may also be due to the stress and worry felt by the parents. It's therefore important for parents to be on the ward so they can get the help and support needed to gradually increase their involvement.

Your study shows that, on average, family-centred care enables premature babies to go home five days earlier. So is it really just a way of saving money?

As far as I'm concerned, it's great that there are savings, but it isn't the main aim, just an added bonus. Babies shouldn't spend any more time in hospital than they have to – there's so much in a hospital environment that can have negative effects. The quicker they get out, the better.

What support do parents get?

NIDCAP is a way of learning to read signs of wellbeing and stress in the infant, and is a very important part of family-centred care. Babies who are born prematurely or are ill after delivery put out weak or immature signals, so parents need a lot of help with learning how to interpret their child's needs and respond to them.

How does NIDCAP help premature babies?

There is much to suggest that time on a respirator is reduced, as is time in hospital, and the child's cognitive development is positively affected. The brain in very premature babies is delicate, and this method can ease the burden. So it's an important method in neonatal care.

Is care for premature babies now as good as it can get?

We've come a long way in Stockholm in terms of the child's environment, but we need to work more on guidelines and attitudes so that all parents get the support they need to participate safely in their child's care.

Published in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap nr 2 2012.