In the Hospital - a quick look

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For some parents of preemie babies, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU for short) becomes a home away from home while they wait for their preemie baby to get strong enough to leave.


The NICU is where your preemie baby will get lots of help.

It can be noisy, confronting, and stressful. Learning a little about the equipment, what health professionals are doing, and some of the medical jargon can help parents of preemie babies feel more confident and less overwhelmed.
Preemie help is here to make sense of it all.


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Family-centered care

Many parents report feeling powerless when they have a preterm infant being taken care of in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU short. More and more hospitals now acknowledge the importance of parent-infant bonding and will encourage your active involvement every step of the way, which ultimately is better for you and your preterm baby.

What is Family-Centered Care?

While you’re in the NICU you might hear doctors or nurses talking about family-centered care.

Family-centered care is a philosophy of care that acknowledges the unique and individual needs of every infant and family. It focuses on the essential role of the family in the lives of children.

Families are supported in their natural caregiving and decision-making roles, while the medical staff respects the unique strengths of people and families. In this type of care, parents and medical staff work together as equals; working to provide the best level of care in the best possible environment for promoting the growth and development of individual members of the family.

One of the main aims of family-centered care is that it strengthens the family unit through advocacy, empowerment, and enabling the family to nurture and support their child's development, rather than the family feeling like observers during the process of their child’s medical care.

(Beckman, Markakis, Suchman, & Frankel, 1994; Forsythe, 1998; Jotzo & Poets, 2005; Melnyk & Feinstein, 2009; Melnyk et al., 2006; Shields-Poe & Pinelli, 1997; Van Riper, 2001)

What are the benefits of Family-Centered Care?

Over recent years there has been more focus directed at research surrounding the potential benefits of involving families in the care of unwell relatives. The following is a list of some of those potential benefits.

  • Decreased length of hospital stay
  • Enhanced parent-infant attachment and bonding
  • Improved well-being of preterm infants
  • Better mental health outcomes
  • Better allocation of hospital resources
  • Greater patient and family satisfaction
(Beckman, Markakis, Suchman, & Frankel, 1994; Forsythe, 1998; Jotzo & Poets, 2005; Melnyk & Feinstein, 2009; Melnyk et al., 2006; Shields-Poe & Pinelli, 1997; Van Riper, 2001)

Types of Family-Centred caregiving interventions

Here are some examples of specific family-centered caregiving intervention, discuss options with your neonatal nurse and neonatologist;

  • "Clustering" caregiving - Individualized care increases rest periods for the infant, providing medical and supportive interventions based on the individualized behavioral cues of the infant, supporting the infant's long-term development by acknowledging the infant's post-conceptional age when choosing interventions, paces procedures, and integrates the family into the interdisciplinary caregiving team.
  • Providing developmentally supportive positioning
  • Positive touch
  • Skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care
  • Music therapy
  • Infant massage
  • Cuddler programs

Research Examples


According to the Newborn Individualised Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) “Family-centred care” positively influences family function. Mothers report more closeness to their infants regardless of their preterm infant’s gestational age, birth weight, or severity of illness.

United States

A national program in the United States provided direct, face-to-face support to families in the NICU, which aimed to provide information and comfort during hospitalisation of their preterm infant, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn death. They found that NICU family support has a positive effect on stress levels, feelings of comfort, and parenting confidence of families in the NICU.


An Australian study demonstrated that family members of critically ill patients enjoyed participating in their relatives' care and critical care nurses supported them in individualising the care. Family members felt useful and it improved communication and helped close physical and emotional contact with their relative. This partnership approach successfully included family members into the daily care for their sick relative and connects patients, families and nurses in critical care within this Family Centred Care model of care.


(Kleberg, Hellström-Westas, & Widström, 2007)(Cooper et al., 2007)(Mitchell & Chaboyer, 2010)


Learn more about Bonding with your preemie


Technical Reference List

Beckman, H. B., Markakis, K. M., Suchman, A. L., & Frankel, R. M. (1994). The doctor-patient relationship and malpractice. Lessons from plaintiff depositions. Arch Intern Med, 154(12), 1365-1370.
Cooper, L. G., Gooding, J. S., Gallagher, J., Sternesky, L., Ledsky, R., & Berns, S. D. (2007). Impact of a family-centered care initiative on NICU care, staff and families. J Perinatol, 27 Suppl 2, S32-37.
Forsythe, P. (1998). New practices in the transitional care center improve outcomes for babies and their families. J Perinatol, 18(6 Pt 2 Su), S13-17.
Jotzo, M., & Poets, C. F. (2005). Helping parents cope with the trauma of premature birth: an evaluation of a trauma-preventive psychological intervention. Pediatrics, 115(4), 915-919.
Kleberg, A., Hellström-Westas, L., & Widström, A.-M. (2007). Mothers' perception of Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) as compared to conventional care. Early Human Development, 83(6), 403-411. doi: DOI: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2006.05.024
Melnyk, B. M., & Feinstein, N. F. (2009). Reducing hospital expenditures with the COPE (Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment) program for parents and premature infants: an analysis of direct healthcare neonatal intensive care unit costs and savings. Nurs Adm Q, 33(1), 32-37.
Melnyk, B. M., Feinstein, N. F., Alpert-Gillis, L., Fairbanks, E., Crean, H. F., Sinkin, R. A., et al. (2006). Reducing premature infants' length of stay and improving parents' mental health outcomes with the Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment (COPE) neonatal intensive care unit program: a randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics, 118(5), e1414-1427.
Mitchell, M. L., & Chaboyer, W. (2010). Family Centred Care--a way to connect patients, families and nurses in critical care: a qualitative study using telephone interviews. Intensive Crit Care Nurs, 26(3), 154-160.
Shields-Poe, D., & Pinelli, J. (1997). Variables associated with parental stress in neonatal intensive care units. Neonatal Netw, 16(1), 29-37.
Van Riper, M. (2001). Family-provider relationships and well-being in families with preterm infants in the NICU. Heart Lung, 30(1), 74-84.



AlbertEinstein_iconOne of the greatest minds in history, Albert Einstein was born preterm.

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Preemie, Premmie, or Prem?

Most babies spend between 38 and 42 weeks in their mother’s uterus. So, technically a preterm birth, preemie, premmie, or prem, is an infant who is born less than 37 completed gestational weeks. 

Read More: Defining Preterm birth



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