The Next Best Thing To Mom

Mother Nature has already provided the perfect place for your baby to grow — you. But for babies born prematurely, our newly expanded Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital is a close second. Every aspect of our calm, serene healing environment is designed to support your baby’s brain, sensory and physical development, while fostering strong parental attachment.

“It’s our responsibility to create an environment that is as protective as possible for growing and developing infants,” says Dr. Stephen Hanten, NICU medical director. “These recent enhancements to our unit will make it easier to provide a healing and nurturing environment for infants and their parents.”

The first things you’ll notice are the dimmed lighting and just how quiet it is. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you’d never know you were actually in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). You’d certainly never guess the NICU at CHOC Mission recently added six brand-new beds and more working space. That’s because every aspect of our recently expanded and remodeled unit is purposely designed to be as calm, serene and “womb-like” as possible.

Even our doctors, nurses and staff speak with lowered voices.

Going to such efforts to control light and sound might seem like a small detail for an intensive care unit that provides such sophisticated, highly advanced care for premature and critically ill newborns. But it is actually better medicine. These efforts are important protective measures, and CHOC Mission is meeting and exceeding standards recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A baby’s sight and hearing develop during the last couple months of pregnancy — ideally within the dark, calm, protective uterine environment. A baby born prematurely is exposed to noises and visual stimuli at a time when the still-developing brain is not yet ready. This may affect how the baby learns, processes, sees and hears, and ultimately impact school success later on.

“An infant’s brain is growing with every experience we provide, which is why we want as much of the physical environment to be as ‘Mom-like’ as possible,” said NICU Clinical Nurse Specialist Liz Drake, R.N., M.N. “How we practice today helps determine how this child will be at ages 3, 5, 15 and 30.”

Family Centered Care, Early Attachment

A baby may spend anywhere from a few days to a few months inside the CHOC Mission NICU. Each bed space is designed to make that stay as comfortable as possible.

Rooms in the new area are larger, providing more space for parents and nursing staff at the baby’s bedside. Updated technology and furnishings include “family chairs” carefully selected by parents with comfort in mind. All interior finishes, including flooring, window treatments and ceiling tiles, were chosen for noise-reduction qualities, as well as aesthetic design.

The goal is to encourage parents to stay longer— 24 hours, if possible. The baby-centric, family friendly approach promotes breast-feeding, strengthens the parent-child bond, and enhances the efforts of our expert physician and nursing staff.

“We ultimately want to create an environment that supports parent and infant attachment,” Dr. Hanten says. “Evidence shows, and we believe, that the more time parents spend with their infant and are involved in their infant’s care while in the hospital, the faster the infant grows and goes home.”

The CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital NICU is located on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital, 27700 Medical Center Rd., Mission Viejo, CA  92691. 

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The Top 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Their NICU Care Team

Newborn babies who need intensive medical attention are often admitted into a special area of the hospital called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Most babies admitted into the NICU are premature (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds), or have a medical condition that requires special care. Dr. Vijay Dhar, medical director of the CHOC Children’s NICU,understands the fear and anxiety experienced by parents of NICU patients. As a veteran neonatologist, Dr. Dhar advises parents to ask their care team the following questions to help alleviate some of that anxiety:

• What is the anticipated length of stay for my baby? A NICU baby might stay in the unit for one night up to six months or longer, depending on the baby’s condition.

• What is my baby’s prognosis? Your baby’s neonatologist can provide you with information based on historical outcomes of babies with the same conditions, complications or illnesses.

• What can I expect in the short and long term? Along with asking about your baby’s prognosis, inquire about what you can expect. Never hesitate to speak with your child’s multidisciplinary team, and they’ll provide you with an assessment based on your child’s condition and current health status.

Vijay, Dhar, M.D., medical director of the CHOC Children’s NICU

• What can you tell me about your NICU?  CHOC’s NICU is an award-winning unit with a team specialized in caring for the most fragile and tiniest of babies. Our NICU offers state-of-the-art care and life-saving technologies around-the-clock. Our patients come from all over the region for our critical tertiary and quaternary care (Level 3C care) and excellent outcomes. Most babies will stay in the west wing of the unit. Babies born at 27 weeks gestation or earlier or weigh less than 1,000 grams will go to the east wing, which is known as the Small Baby Unit.

• What type of support services do you offer in the NICU and in the hospital for parents?  CHOC recognizes the impact of a child’s illness on a family. We use a family-centered approach – a belief that a family’s involvement in the healthcare of a child is important. Our psychologists and social workers provide supportive counseling to assist families in coping with the unpredictability of a potentially life-threatening condition. They also link families with community resources for emotional, as well as financial, support.

•  How can I bond with my baby?  Finding out your baby will have to spend time in the NICU is never easy. We believe bonding time with your baby provides many health benefits for your child and you. Our NICU experts promote contact with even the most fragile and smallest patients, including extremely low birth weight babies and those on ventilators. Babies have very positive responses to their parents’ closeness—whether it is a gentle caress with a fingertip or skin-to-skin cuddling. We have developed the Parenting in the NICU Guide with advice, information and support most helpful for NICU moms, dads and extended family. The guides are available through your baby’s NICU care team.

• Can I stay somewhere near my baby? CHOC has a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House, a cozy, 20 bedroom place located a few short blocks from the hospital. A social worker can provide you with more information on accommodations and help you with additional resources.

• Can my baby be transferred back to my referring hospital after he is in stable condition? Approximately 50 percent of our NICU patients are transported from hospitals across the region for lifesaving treatment – as close as Los Angeles County and Inland Empire, and as far as Hawaii. Speak to your care team about what will happen once your baby is in stable condition.

• Is there a way for me to obtain insight from my baby’s care team all at once? CHOC strongly encourages parents to be present during “rounds,” a time during the morning hours when the entire care team (nurses, doctors and additional specialty clinicians) check in with patients to review their health status and progress. Each patient case is evaluated and discussed during this time.

 What precautions can I take to avoid infections?  CHOC is strict and vigilant with our infection control policies and practices. Parents and visitors are expected to follow these guidelines to protect our NICU patients. Everyone must their wash their hands with alcohol gel.  If you have had recent contact or exposure to a communicable disease, or recent contact with an ill person, you must receive approval from the Infection Control Practitioner to come into the unit. Any visitor who is currently ill is not permitted to visit.

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CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is Expanding to Better Serve the Families of OC

CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital (CCMH), located on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital’s patient care tower, serves as the only dedicated pediatric healthcare facility for families in south Orange County, the surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

Currently, the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is undergoing an expansion, which will add six new dedicated NICU beds and accompanying amenities, needed to meet increasing regional demand for this highly specialized care. Plans also include modification of the existing isolation rooms, and formula and lactation rooms. Construction is scheduled for completion in June 2012.

The expansion of the NICU is another example of CCMH’s dedication to providing newborn babies with innovative and specialized care, giving them a strong chance of growing up to lead healthy, normal lives.

Learn more about CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.

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