Monday, September 14, 2009

When a Newborn is in the NICU

It's daunting for anyone who is not part of a hospital staff to walk into a NICU -- the intensive care unit of the hospital for newborn babies. First there is the protocol of having your identity checked and then the ritual of hand washing (usually 1-2 minutes with warm water and antibacterial soap).

Then there's the place itself: little tiny preemies and other sick babies in incubators attached to machines that fire off statistics about their vital signs. Bells are always chiming and these horrible alarms start ringing when a baby stops breathing or shows other signs of distress. The exhausted doctors and nurses rush around looking stressed out trying to keep every little charge in their care alive.

If it's bad for friends and relatives, it's that much worse for parents. The NICU is not a place anyone wants to go.Several new studies show that for parents with premature babies the stress and trauma of having a baby whisked off to the NICU can last for years afterwards, according to an article published in the New York Times. The article cites several scientific studies indicating that a NICU experience can create lasting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Though many children who come early have few if any problems, being born premature (which is defined as pre 37-weeks gestation) can lead to a host of lifelong health problems and retardation.

In America these days we seem to do everything to keep premature babies, even micropreemies who may not have a chance at a normal life, alive. We use aggressive intervention and the latest "advances" in medical technology.

Sometimes this absolute determination to keep a baby that did not get a chance to gestate fully alive seems misguided. If a child is going to grow up to have terrible health and other problems and a poor quality of life, is it fair of us to try to defy nature in every way we can to keep that baby alive?

To read a detailed article on premature birth first published in Pregnancy Magazine, click here.

To read a first-person account of visiting a friend's baby in the NICU, click here.

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