Smallest patients thrive with a big change

While we might want to shout from the rooftops to celebrate an amenity available at few hospitals in the United States, the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Small Baby Unit is different. Shouting – or even talking louder than a whisper – can be harmful to little ones focused on developing and growing.

The Small Baby Unit within the NICU provides six beds in a sectioned-off area. This unit minimizes sound and lights that impede a baby’s brain development. It also features an around-the-clock specialized team providing customized care to address the unique needs of children born under 30 weeks’ gestation.

“Research shows these small babies benefit from having a quiet, dim environment to help with their developing brains and neurological systems,” said Derrick Rollo, MD, neonatologist.

Designed to simulate the warm, dark safe space in the mother’s womb, minor facility changes will have big outcomes for premature babies like William Colter, born June 17. Take a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Carle’s small baby unit.

Polly, Dale and WilliamOriginally placed in the general NICU, Will was the small baby unit’s first patient on July 3, 16 days after he was born, weighing 2 pounds, 8 ounces. Following his transition into the small baby unit, parents Polly and Dale recognized significant changes. Will slept longer, gained weight quicker and calmed easier. His eyes were more protected from light, and he was warmer.

“We were in both the small baby unit and the larger NICU, and it was an adjustment for parents – the talking especially – but when I saw the immediate impact it had on Will I was sold,” said Polly Colter, Paris.

Colter said her delivery day was a whirlwind including a helicopter ride from Coles County to Carle. As the region’s only hospital offering Level III Perinatal services, Carle's NICU team stands ready to care for the tiniest, most vulnerable little ones.

NICU’s Carey Gaede, NP, says babies receive intensive two-person care. The first person is a specially trained nurse. The second person is a parent or other staff member. The goal through two-person care is to speed up the parent-child bond by involving the parent in their baby’s care from the outset.

“The nurses are amazing, and they involve me in taking care of Will. Because of the Small Baby Unit, I was able to touch Will within hours of his birth and hold him within two days. Some moms don’t get that chance,” said Polly adding, “We’re lucky to be a part of all of Will’s ‘firsts’ – feeding, diaper and bath.”

Dr. Rollo said the goal is to get baby, as safely as possible, onto Mom’s or Dad’s chest as soon as possible. Parents can now hold Baby within the first 24 hours, although some we do have to be more cautious with during the first few days.

This proven treatment, known as Kangaroo-care promotes skin-to-skin contact between a parent and baby for a host of benefits.

Proceeding with caution but enthusiasm, the Small Baby Unit is behind closed doors and is limited to trained staff and visitors. Weeks before the opening, facilities staff installed darkening shades and dimmed other lighting fixtures. Nursing staff studied sound levels with a goal to limit the noise between 45-55 decibels, a remarkable effort when you consider a standard doorbell produces 70 decibels.

Carle is just the fourth hospital in Illinois to open a small baby unit and joins about 20 hospitals across the country dedicated to this advanced level of care.