It is difficult to understand the toll that being the parent of a preemie takes unless you have been there yourself. There’s a sense of powerlessness, constant worry about the health of your baby, and the stress of being thrown into the world of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. When you have a child in the NICU, the language, equipment and medical procedures are completely new to you.
A new program at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center and St. David’s Medical Center is working to change that.
The Families’ Bridge to Caring Hands program prepares high-risk mothers to care for a premature baby. Learning about the NICU experience before delivery helps mothers to reduce their risk of postpartum depression and improve their bond with their babies.
The program is a bridge between the antepartum unit and the NICU. The antepartum unit is where women who are likely to deliver preterm will remain on bed rest for weeks or months due to serious pregnancy complications. The NICU is where their babies will receive specialized care once they are born.
A key component of the program is an online patient portal that gives mothers password-protected access to approved educational resources. This parallels the formal training that the program provides to their perinatal nurses (including antepartum, labor and delivery, postpartum, and lactation) and to select Ambassador NICU RNs. Together they build personal connections that empower and engage mothers in the care of their premature newborns.
Rebecca South, the founder and executive director of Families’ Bridge to Caring Hands, a Texas-based nonprofit, spent more than 25 years as a NICU nurse and recently shifted from that career to developing the program full-time.
“The stress that a woman faces while having a baby in the NICU has been shown to interfere with parent-child bonding and is correlated to a higher risk of mood disorders,” South says. “One study found that 42 percent of NICU moms had postpartum depressive symptoms, and 30 percent had symptoms of PTSD. We have to change that.”
More than 50 women have participated in the program and it is already making a big difference. Audrey Cockrum, RNC-NIC SNU, has worked at St. David’s Medical Center for 14 years, where she is the NICU supervisor.
“This program has allowed moms to feel more empowered, less stressed, and able to bond with their babies so much faster. They are less overwhelmed about playing a role in their baby’s care,” Cockrum says. “The most common question we get from parents is, ‘When can I take my baby home?’ The babies of mothers who participated in the program are going home faster than I have ever seen.”
The introduction of the program at the two St. David’s locations is just the beginning. The program has been introduced at two other hospitals and Ms. South has been presenting her program to other hospitals and decision-makers in the neonatal care community.
Note to media outlets: Rebecca South is available for interviews. Please contact her at Rebecca.South@familiesbridge.com or (214) 952-4702.