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Caring That Helps Create Families

Thursday, May 10, 2018
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Thanks to this program, these new mothers aren't just bonding with their babies.

They're bonding with the nurses who take care of them.

"Leaving the hospital was almost bittersweet," said a new mom. "We were so excited to go home as new parents, but we knew we'd also miss the nurses."

The bond is developed with the nurses of Doylestown Health's Carol and Louis Della Penna Pediatric Center who offer support, guidance and education to moms of babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

"The first day on the unit my stress level went down so much," said the mom. "Three days into it and I felt so comfortable with the nurses. They made me and his dad feel better." She and her newborn son stayed in the Della Penna Pediatric Center for almost two weeks.

Most of the mothers are in recovery. Many are prescribed methadone, a medication-based therapy used in recovery. The babies are exposed to the drug during pregnancy and may have symptoms after birth that include irritability, as well as trouble sleeping and eating. Sometimes these babies need to be medicated, but the best medicine is having their mother with them. The nurses are there to answer all the new parents' questions. They teach them how to calm a crying, agitated infant and support the parents continuously.

Until last August, babies with NAS stayed in the NICU for days or occasionally weeks until their symptoms resolved or they were weaned from medication. But it became clear the NICU, with its sometimes lack of privacy and over-stimulating environment, wasn't the best place for these new families. 

Last year, Kathy Donahue, Doylestown Health's director of Maternal-Child Services, and her staff began looking for alternatives. Based on their findings from other hospitals and in response to patient feedback, they initiated a program that takes a different approach.

Babies with NAS now stay in the Della Penna Pediatric Center, which has private rooms and specialized nursing care around the clock. The nurses help the mothers start a new chapter in their lives, one that is focused on recovery and taking the best care of their babies.

There are many benefits to caring for these babies on the pediatric unit, including mom or dad can stay in the room overnight if they choose, giving the new family time to bond.

More than ever what these new moms need – and what they get – is support from their nursing team. They teach skills mom can use at home, and try to bolster new moms when they get discouraged.

"The nurses offer positive reinforcement," said Pediatrics clinical nurse manager Kristina Elmer. "The moms feel really comfortable with them. You can just see the walls drop."

Counselors from the Aldie Counseling Center came to Doylestown Hospital last year to educate the nurses on how to support the moms that are in recovery.

"We work as a team with Aldie to provide the same guidance and encouragement to the moms," said Kathy.

"They want to do the right thing for their baby," said Kathy, adding the unit is a "judgment-free zone."

The rooms in the Della Penna Pediatric Center have plenty of space for family to come visit. With many moms receiving help from family members, the nurses also give them tools needed to take care of these newborns.

"We felt it was really important for the program to support the whole family, not just wean the baby," said Kathy.

"They really prepared us to go home," said the new mom, who added that staying at the Della Penna Pediatric Center "made a world of difference."

"Having that option is good for the parents and the baby," she added. "The nurses genuinely care. They made me feel like I wasn't just another patient."

The new mothers continue to provide positive feedback on the program as well as suggestions for improvement.

"We're improving things all the time," said Kristina.

About the VIA Maternity Center

Doylestown Health’s VIA Maternity Center is rated among the best in the region for maternity care with services available for every stage of pregnancy through the birth experience. The VIA Maternity Center features a 32-bed maternity unit that includes 9 labor, delivery & recovery rooms, 22 private post-partum rooms, and a Level II NICU staffed by CHOP neonatologists.

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