What if parents were a drug?

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What if I told you that we possessed a drug capable of decreasing pain and stress in the hospitalized neonate?

What if I said that this drug came with no side effects, reduced length of stay, was shown to improve neurodevelopmental outcomes, and was FREE?

What if I said that you already had access to it? 

You would be knocking down the door of your medical director to ask why your unit wasn’t using it, right?….

What if parents were a drug? 

This is the intriguing question posed by Dr Atle Meon, a neonatologist based at Oslo University Hospital, in Oslo, Norway.  In an article published in Acta Paediatrica, Dr. Meon discusses that while much of the science of neonatology has focused on high tech therapies, a growing body of evidence highlights the importance of how we provide care.

Recurrent pain and stress experienced by the hospitalized neonate has been correlated with decreasing brain volume resulting in poor neurodevelopmental outcomes at followup.  What if, instead of focusing on high tech therapies and drug administration to mitigate pain, we instead focused on increasing our “dosage” of parental presence?  Brilliant, right?

It sounds so simple, yet it is so powerful. Parental presence matters.

Study after study has shown the power of skin-to-skin care, maternal presence, and parental participation, as a means of reducing stress and pain, as well as improved long-term neurodevelopment.  

Not only does increased parental presence improve the outcomes of the baby, it also has beneficial effects for parents. Moms and dads who have unrestricted access to their hospitalized baby, and participate actively in their care report decreased anxiety and depression and stronger bonding.   Each of us have access to this powerful “drug,” parental presence, yet so many of us work in units where we’ve built systemic barriers preventing parents from participating fully in their baby’s care.

If the documented benefits of parental participation and stress reduction could be obtained using a drug with no side effects, it would, based on present evidence, have been standard care similar to how we use caffeine citrate or… Click To Tweet [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.21.1″][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.21.1″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.21.1″]

As Dr. Meon discusses, we need to reframe our thinking when it comes to the design of our physical units, as well as our policies and procedures in the delivery of care, and shift our perspective to that of the infant.  We need to bring an awareness to the fact that the pain and stress we inflict on our day to day care has lasting negative effects, and that we are able to mitigate those effects through more infant-focused care that optimizes parental presence and participation.

Access to the full article is available through the Wiley Online Library here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/apa.15306

Meon, A. (2020). If parents were a drug?, Acta Paediatrica, 00, pp. 1-2, DOI: 10.1111/apa.15306 

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