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Private rooms could improve premature birth patients experience

There’s a bond that forms among families who share time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NNICU). No matter how many years go by or what new parenting challenges we face, there’s a connection that’s not quite like any other in this life. A simple smile and nod acknowledges all the shared worries we’ve faced: the emotional toll of nights leaving your medically fragile child in a stranger’s care, the financial drain of extra weeks off work, the psychological ups and downs of feeling both helpless and responsible for a small human who has already endured more needle pricks and medical assessments than you can count.

There’s also the shared experience of overhearing much of your neighbour’s personal information, which happens when you’re part of an open ward like we have at The Moncton Hospital. The unit staff do their best to maintain excellence in patient confidentiality, but a sheet of fabric does not muffle your sobs or drown out the beeps of other babies’ monitors. I’m so grateful our NNICU practices with integrated family care in mind, keeping parents and babies together for as many hours in the day as the parents want, including parents in diaper changes and feedings, and discussing medical updates openly. It’s worth that bonding time to hear a little extra from your NNICU neighbour, but news this week of huge strides toward changing the physical layout of the unit itself makes me grateful on behalf of all the parents who will benefit from the changes.

The Extraordinary Care Campaign launched earlier this month, with $5.6 million of the $8 million needed already in place. The project will include expanding and enhancing the NNICU, as well as the labour and birthing unit and the maternal fetal medicine clinic. The new NNICU will include single rooms in which parents and infant patients can be together, a move that will both improve privacy and reduce noise in the unit, changes that would have made an incredibly positive impact on our families’ five-week stay in 2013.

This announcement comes during a particularly poignant time for preemie families like ours. For the past 10 years, November 17 has been recognized as World Prematurity Awareness Day. In Canada, one in 12 babies are born before 37 weeks gestation (full term pregnancy is 40 weeks). Across the world, one in 10 children are born early, with preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five throughout the world, including here at home. Despite all our medical advances in helping intervene and improve outcomes for families, the causes of premature birth remain unclear even as research shows that preterm births are on the rise, making improved units like the one planed for Moncton increasingly important.

If you can’t contribute financially to the campaign, that’s okay. Preemie families are also in need of your empathy. Please understand that if a parent of a baby born weeks, even months, before its due date is anxious about public gatherings or reluctant to let a close friend or family member hold their newborn, it’s not about you. When a tiny human has come into this world earlier than intended, it can take years before that child’s immune system and organs are strong enough to stand up to even the tiniest sniffle or whiff of second-hand smoke. As parents, we are tasked to do all we can to protect our children. We weren’t able to protect them from arriving too soon, but we are able to keep them away from unnecessary risk once they are in our arms. And we can advocate for those who will share our journey in the future.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

She Said: Small Blessings

Preemies: Then & Now

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