Helping premature babies get home sooner

Erica and Cory Thomas can remember vividly the day it all started.

“We had initially come in to be monitored because my wife had a headache. We knew she had high blood pressure but were hoping to be sent home with some medication,” says Cory.

Instead, the doctor came back and told the couple an emergency C-section was needed for Erica and her twin babies’ safety.

At 32 weeks and four days, Jacob Thomas made his appearance on May 23 at 5:09 p.m. weighing 4 lb., 13 oz. A minute later, his twin sister Arianna came into the world weighing 4 lb., 1 oz.

Ever since the twins' birth, their proud parents have been involved in their care every step of the way. They’re part of a new research project to help families leave the hospital sooner with healthier preterm babies.

“Family-integrated care empowers the parents to improve their knowledge, skills and confidence in taking care of a premature infant,” says Jill Larocque, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner. “Parents are often under stress and afraid to take their babies home because they aren’t involved from the start with the baby’s care.”

Alberta has one of the highest rates of preterm births in Canada. One in 12 babies is born preterm in the province. Parents must leave their preterm babies in the hospital to fully develop and become healthy enough to take home. Jill and Dr. Khalid Aziz hope to change that model. 

Dr. Khalid Aziz and Jill Larocque are the researchers looking at how an increase in parent involvement leads to a decrease in hospital stays for premature babies. The Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals are two of the sites involved in the research.

The have a plan called Family Integrated Care (FICare). FICare proposes a new way to integrate the family into the care of their preterm baby. With guidance from nurses, family members are integrated into the healthcare team and provide routine care such as holding, feeding and changing their preterm baby.

The team is hoping to show that babies looked after in this way will be discharged from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in less time, and that the families will be better equipped to look after their preterm infants. “Currently, the length of stay for a preterm baby in a level II NICU is 16 days,” says Khalid, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. “We’re hoping to reduce that number by at least 10 per cent. We want parents to feel both confident and competent in the care of their preterm babies when they go home.”

Erica and Cory are hoping to be home with the twins in the next couple of weeks. 

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