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The Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU) is a secret world, tucked away on just one floor of the Brisbane maternity hospital, however for nearly 2,000 Queensland families who visit the unit each year the impact of the NCCU will last a lifetime.
Providing lifesaving critical care for Queensland’s tiniest and most fragile babies the NCCU is a 79-cot facility caring for critically unwell newborn babies, including premature babies born as young as 23 weeks often weighing less than a kilogram.
For families who need to spend time here, sometimes well over one hundred days, the experience is undeniably a stressful one, filled with uncertainty, anxiety and fear.
Director of the NCCU Neonatologist Dr Pita Birch and his team have been coming up with innovative solutions to improve the experience families have while in his unit, helping to reduce the stress and anxiety and helping parents to bond with their babies.
“Firstly, we will be introducing noise cancelled headphones for parents to wear while spending time with and cuddling their babies. As we have several cots in each room we must ask parents to leave while we are doing rounds to avoid disclosing private patient information in front of other families,” Pita explained.
“This process can take a long time and we have found some parents will avoid the unit during rounds, we are hoping the headphones will both increase parent attendance and allow us to freely discuss patient information on the ward without any privacy concerns.
“The headphones will also drown out any of the noise from the medical equipment which can be unpleasant or alarming to listen to, we are hoping parents will be able to be more present and have a peaceful experience while holding their babies.”
The second initiative being implemented in the NCCU will be the reading program where parents will be able to select a range of children’s books to read to their babies.
“There has been a lot of research into the benefits of reading to babies, we understand babies can hear from as early as 23-26 weeks gestation and we believe language exposure is important for normal brain development in those born preterm as well as unwell term babies,” Pita said.
“Our babies are in an unfamiliar new world and we know hearing their parents’ voices can be very calming. In addition, reading gives our parents the ability to bond with their babies in an environment where they have limited activities they can do with them.
“We also believe the reading program will be setting our parents up with good habits encouraging them to regularly read to their babies as they continue to grow giving them the best start in life.”
Pita explains without the support of the Mater Foundation who have funded the headphones and books these initiatives would not be possible.
Preterm Clinical Nurse Stacey Paplawski said the project has been set up so thoughtfully to deliver the best outcomes to the parents.
“We have individually covered the books for infection control purposes and tried to choose a wide selection of material that parents can read to themselves and their children. We have so many classics in the collection which parents will love,” Stacey said.
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Image Caption: Preterm Clinical Nurse Stacey Paplawski, Mother Crystal Horwood and baby Hendrix born at 27 weeks gestation.