Strengthening mother-baby bonds in the NICU

The bond between mother and newborn is not only powerful, it’s important for the healthy development of the child, research has shown.

But when a baby is born too soon or has other medical problems requiring a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, fear and uncertainty can interfere with the forming of those bonds.

“We see moms looking terrified,” Umber Darilek, a registered nurse at University Hospital, told Texas Public Radio reporter Wendy Rigby. “A lot of women don’t know how to approach their babies, especially when there are tubes and lines coming out of all directions.”

To try to break through that fear and encourage healthy bonding, University Hospital is studying a program called the Family Nurture Intervention, which pairs new mothers with nurture specialists to encourage skin-to-skin contact, eye contact, vocal communication and other aspects of maternal care.

Dr. Martha Welch, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, has done considerable research into the program and recently visited University Hospital to speak to physicians and staff here. She told Ms. Rigby the program has resulted in “amazing outcomes, totally different from the usual outcomes for pre-term infants in terms of cognition, language, risk for autism, behavior.”

You can read or listen to TPR bioscience-medicine reporter Wendy Rigby’s story here.