Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Services
Interview of Alison Brooks
This is a transcript of the Audio: Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Services. To listen you may download Windows Media Player .
Alison Brooks: My name is Alison Brooks. I'm the Clinical Nurse Specialist for Women and Infants of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Male Interviewer: What are we going to talk about today?
Ms. Brooks: Okay. We're going to talk about one of my most favorite, favorite subjects and those are the premature babies and the little babies that are in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. I think it's important that people understand just how special the babies and the families are that enter the world of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. When a woman gets pregnant and a family is anticipating a new baby, quite frequently they don't think how wonderful it's going to be to be in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Their dreams and hopes are of bringing home a healthy, full-term baby and when things don't turn out quite the way they planned and they end up in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, it's a very intense and scary journey. These babies are our greatest teachers and so are the families. What we learn so much from our families and these babies is about how best we can care for them to develop a strong bond and attachment that's so very important for their lives ahead.
Interviewer: Then it's not sort of a sterile environment where all you're doing is taking care of the baby's very clinical medical needs. It's taking care of much more of that for the baby.
Ms. Brooks: I think we're very fortunate right now that we have such amazing technology that can support these very tiny babies that would not have been there and we would not have been able to support these babies 10 or 15 years ago. However, we should never, ever lose sight of the human faces of these babies and families. So we have the technology to support their breathing. We have the technology to help feed them in special ways. But more importantly, we also need to remember that we are growing their brains and their attachment, their emotions, so that we want to have not just a healthy little body, but also a healthy brain and an emotionally strong being that leaves the nursery intact.
Interviewer: And for a premature or a sick baby, what can you do to make sure of that?
Ms. Brooks: We do several things. One of the things that we start with is recognizing that they have a very immature brain and that this brain is growing at a phenomenal rate, so we need to be very mindful and protective of this growing brain. So we provide an environment that is supportive in being able to limit noise and light that can be over-stimulating and most importantly, to really encourage the family to be present with their baby as much as they can. That is the difference. We recognize that we might understand the technology and be a necessary part of this baby's life, but more importantly, the family needs to be there and to learn how to bond, to express their love and to be that permanent fixture in this baby's life.
Interviewer: As the family comes into the unit, what is your advice to them?
Ms. Brooks: [thinking] To recognize that they're not alone and this might feel like this is the most devastating experience of their lives and that they feel very alone, but there are other people that have been in their place and that there are people here at Alta Bates Summit that can support them and that we're there for them, to really care for them at this time.
Interviewer: What is Compassionate Touch and how do baby's benefit from that?
Ms. Brooks: Compassionate Touch is a wonderful program that we are very fortunate to be able to offer here at Alta Bates Summit and it's a program that is designed to really fully integrate our babies and families into a healthy, loving relationship. What we recognize is that, as we know, it's not normal to have a baby in the nursery and be separated from their mother and father. So what we have done is provided a program that will help really strengthen their relationship by encouraging families to truly understand the unique behaviors of these preemies. A full-term baby is a baby that will open their eyes, cry robustly, respond to being held in a very positive way. Some of our little babies, just being spoken to or held is overwhelming, so we need to teach our families how best that they can relate and communicate with their little baby and recognize how their baby is communicating with them. If we don't get that response from the person to whom we're speaking, it confuses us and that confuses our families when their babies are not responding in a way that they would normally expect of a full-term baby.
Interviewer: Okay. So you're teaching them to recognize the signals that they're getting from the baby, which might not be the signals they're expecting to get.
Ms. Brooks: Absolutely. What we're teaching our families is how can they communicate with this very fragile little baby that's hooked up to all these machines, where they often feel overwhelmed as a parent and often feel that the nurses or the physicians know their baby better. And what our job is is to say
no, you know your baby better than any one of us and that relationship is the most important relationship.
Interviewer: What have you heard from parents when they've gone through this? When they've had that interaction with their baby, what have they told you?
Ms. Brooks: The families who have been a part of our Compassionate Touch Program have given us the most wonderful feedback, not only verbally but in some wonderful photographs that we have of them connecting with their baby. They've really appreciated what a difference it's made in their ability to feel as a parent of this tiny baby, what a difference it's made in their ability to feel that their heart opens up and their love can come pouring out. Remember that these families are very, very fearful and one of their biggest fears is that the baby might die, so this is an opportunity for these families to really, really engage with their babies. So our families have told us how it's made them realize how important they are, how they realize they are the ones that are making a difference in their babies' lives and how different it feels for them to step into the nursery and recognize that their baby recognizes them. Not all of our families and not all of our babies have happy endings. And we had a family who had a set of twins and unfortunately one twin became very sick and died and the loss of a baby is a profound experience for any parent, but to also continue to step foot into the nursery, every single day, and continue to bond and attach with another baby who also might be at risk for dying is an even more overwhelming experience for these families. Though this one mother is an extraordinary mother who came in every single day and despite her grief, would come in and apply all that we were teaching her about how to communicate with her one remaining twin, to express her love, to express her presence, to recognize how important it was for her to be there with her one baby that was remaining. This mother's face just lit up as her baby, again, responded so positively to her, so she recognized how important it was for her to keep going, to come in every day, despite all of her fears.
Interviewer: What does the research tell us about the success of this sort of program?
Ms. Brooks: Research is really telling us now how important touch is to a baby's world. That we can look at studies that are looking at brain development and growth and how our nerves connect with one another in the brain and what a difference it makes when you have appropriate touch and communication for those babies and families. We're looking at long-term studies that look at when these babies grow up and go to school and how better they are at social communication, behavioral communication, how better they adapt in school. These babies are very vulnerable, so this is one other tool that we have to really support this emerging child in our society. And more importantly, to really make sure that our families are intact for many years to come.
Interviewer: Is there a lesson that we can learn from this that could be applied, not just to premature babies, but to full-term, very healthy babies?
Ms. Brooks: Absolutely. We all like to be touched, so this is something that should be applied to anyone and it shouldn't just be babies, it should be all of us, even into our old age. The reason that we are applying it to our premature babies in this way is because preemies are very, very vulnerable, so we need to be very cautious in how we approach these babies. And we can't just paint the same color with the same stroke for everyone and that's particularly true with our little babies. We have a wonderful website about our Newborn Intensive Care Unit so families can take a virtual tour and of course we always welcome parents who are anticipating a baby that may come into our nursery to come and have a tour. On that website is an explanation of our programs, particularly Compassionate Touch so that they can deepen their understanding about how they can communicate with their baby. This is a different kind of program and also we recognize that this can make a huge difference in the lives of these babies and their families.
(Recording Ends)- INTERVIEW CONCLUDED -
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