Among the many unique and innovative features of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit, one of the most advanced of its kind in the nation, are couplet rooms, allowing mothers and their babies to remain together while receiving care.
Yale New Haven is one of only two hospitals in the U.S. and the first academic medical center to offer couplet rooms. When the specially designed, state-of-the-art unit was being planned, Yale reached out to families who previously received care at the hospital for ideas.
The couplet rooms, along with private rooms for each baby — as opposed to traditional NICU nurseries, where dozens of infants are in one large room — offer a much more therapeutic environment conducive to healing, privacy and developmental growth.
The hospital’s physicians say the unique rooms strengthen the maternal-infant bond by fostering skin-to-skin contact and make breastfeeding easier around the clock, among other benefits for infants and mothers.
“Being together for those first days can be so beneficial, whether it’s fostering breastfeeding or easing parental anxiety,” says Dr. Mark Mercurio, Yale’s chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine. “Each newborn has far more space for patient care and equipment, including our advanced monitoring equipment, and the separation of patients can reduce the spread of infection. Even the noise level is greatly reduced by this layout, also making a stay in the unit less stressful.”
Another innovative feature is an operating room right in the NICU, enabling anything from simply inserting a tube in a young patient to performing surgery to be done without the need to transport the baby out of the NICU. “Instead of bringing a newborn to the surgery floor, we can bring the surgery team to the baby,” Mercurio says. “Especially for babies whose condition is unstable, this adds an important layer of safety.”
Another major advancement is on the near horizon, as a neonatal brain MRI unit will open in the NICU this year, one of the first in the U.S.
According to Mercurio, the new MRI unit is being specifically designed to serve the unique clinical needs of newborns, and its groundbreaking technology will allow for the routine MRI scanning of premature newborn brains as well as for other potential concerns. Neonatologists and pediatric neurologists will also be better equipped to study neurological development in newborns, and apply that information to provide even better care for high-risk patients.
The innovative layout and advanced technology at the children’s hospital will likely be a model for other neonatal intensive care units. “Having the OR, MRI and couplet rooms within the NICU is unique right now, but I think we will see more such units throughout the U.S. in coming years,” Mercurio says. “Babies and their parents deserve nothing less.”
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