Light and sound in the NICU

nicu-baby2We all know that a mother’s womb is the best environment for a developing baby. But when a baby is born prematurely, this environment shifts from the quiet protected womb of mom to that of a bright and often noisy hospital setting. “Developmental care” is known as the effort to provide a preemie with an experience as similar to that of the womb as possible. This is done by making the effort to create a peaceful, stress-reduced environment. It seems to make perfect sense.

Experts agree that sounds should be kept to a minimum, as premature and sick babies are very sensitive to sound. According to the Preemies book, while in the NICU, you should:

• speak calmly in an even tone of voice
• avoid playing loud music
• close isolette cabinets and portholes gently
• avoid tapping fingers or placing bottles on an isolette
• use an isolette cover, which will help dampen noise.

However, not all experts agree on what to do regarding light. Some brain specialists offer the following suggestions:

• dim lights in the NICU
• cover your baby’s isolette with blankets to further shut out light
• use a low bedside light for when your baby needs care
• shield your baby’s eyes from direct light when you pick her up, and
• reduce noise as much as possible.

Yet, other specialists believe that the benefits of shielding your baby from light may depend on your baby’s age – the younger the baby, the more darkness he needs. And some specialists believe that light (as long as it is not glaring) may have positive developmental benefits.

To help figure out what is best for your baby, and to understand more about developmental care, talk to your baby’s neonatologist. You can also read more about it in this book Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies, 2nd Edition (2010), which provided the background for this blog post.

Questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

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