A study of 1,786 babies born prematurely in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, found babies whose parents were hands-on, put on more weight and continued to breastfeed more often.
The parents also reported feeling less stress and anxiety compared to the control group of parents who gave a standard amount of care.
“Parents are too often perceived as visitors to the intensive care unit,” said Dr Karel O’Brien, one of the study’s authors from Toronto’s Sinai Health System. “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.”
The trial compared neonatal units who provided a Family Integrated Care (FICare) programme, with neonatal units providing standard care. There were 895 babies born at 33 weeks who were in neonatal units with the FICare programme. These were compared to the 891 babies in neonatal units with standard care.
Parents who were more directly involved in their children’s care bathed, fed, changed and dressed their babies. They also gave medication and took their child’s temperature. They took part in clinical decisions and ward rounds and helped to chart their baby’s growth and progress.
They also committed to being at their baby’s incubator for at least six hours a day, five days a week.
After 21 days, babies in the FICare group had put on more weight and showed higher daily weight gain than those receiving the standard care.
Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of the premature and sick baby charity Bliss said the 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.
We know that when parents are empowered to look after their own baby on the neonatal unit this has multiple positive outcomes for babies."Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of the premature and sick baby charity Bliss
Lee-Davey said the charity champions the key role of parents in taking a hands-on approach in the baby’s care: “Not only for the baby’s development but also to instil confidence in the parents as primary caregivers.”
She told HuffPost UK: “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.”