Involving parents as direct carers, including doing ward rounds and taking children’s temperature, improves weight gain of pre-term infants in intensive care and reduces parent stress and anxiety…

Active involvement of parents improves wellbeing

The international trial, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal on 7 February 2018, finds that a programme of integrated family care in neonatal intensive care units (ICU) led to improved weight gain among preterm infants, better breastfeeding rates, and reduced parental stress and anxiety, compared to standard care.

High levels of stress and anxiety

Parents whose newborns are receiving intensive care are often perceived as visitors and report high levels of stress and anxiety. However, a new randomised trial shows that actively involving parents in the care of their newborns – from giving oral medicine, feeding, taking their temperature, to being actively involved in ward rounds – helps improve the wellbeing of both children and parents.

Findings challenge existing dogma

The authors say that the findings challenge the existing dogma that considers parents as peripheral to their infants’ care in the ICU. They add that the improvement in weight and breastfeeding rates and parental wellbeing might also translate into long-term neurodevelopmental benefits for children, although further research is needed to examine this question.

Parent integration has long-term benefits

“How care is provided to the family, not just the infant, has a positive effect on the wellbeing of both infant and family,” says Dr Karel O’Brien, Department of Paediatrics, Sinai Health System, Toronto, Canada. “Weight gain, breastfeeding and reduced parental stress and anxiety are all associated with positive neurodevelopmental outcomes, suggesting that integrating parents into the care of infants at this early stage could potentially have longer-term benefits.”

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“Parents are too often perceived as visitors to the intensive care unit. 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,” says Dr O’Brien.

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