Connecting Mom and Baby: NICU Telemedicine
Having a baby can be stressful enough for a new mom. But when complications occur leading to a separation between mom and baby, it can make things even more overwhelming.
When Rebecca Hug visited her obstetrician on March 19 at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, little did she know she and her husband, Patrick, would become first-time parents two months earlier than expected.
After experiencing rapid weight gain and high blood pressure, Hug was diagnosed with eclampsia and, within hours that day, delivered her son, Deacon, by C-section.
“I only had about an hour to process things before the doctors told me I was having Deacon early,” Hug recalls. “By the next morning, Deacon was transported to St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s NICU because even though he was stable, they knew he would need support since he came so early. I only saw him for about two minutes when the transport team brought him to me in an incubator, so I could touch him.”
For her own recovery, Hug needed to remain hospitalized, but thanks to telemedicine family communication now available through the St. Louis Children’s Hospital NICU and Missouri Baptist Medical Center, she was able to stay connected to her son. This technology is also being used with Parkland Health Center and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
A telemedicine cart with a high-tech camera at St. Louis Children’s Hospital enables new moms to see and hear their babies in real time and in high definition on iPads using a secure BJC network from their hospital rooms or even from home.
“We have a couple iPads that our moms have used to see their babies who are in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital NICU or even in our own NICU if they are too sick to leave their rooms,” says Kelley Kostich, manager of the Missouri Baptist NICU. “Being able to connect mom and baby is so important to facilitate bonding. This helps with the unknown, so moms can see their baby and know that their baby is being taken care of.”
Hug said she used the telemedicine technology on several occasions while she was still in the hospital, as well as family members who came to see her. It also helped her husband, who rotated between home, Children’s Hospital and Missouri Baptist.
“Being in the hospital sometimes feels like you are in a bubble. Being able to see Deacon in the Children’s NICU from my hospital room made it more of a reality and helped fill the void of not being with my baby,” she says. “Telemedicine made it the next best thing to being there.”
The use of this technology has been a welcome addition to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital NICU, and how they can provide support for both baby and mom, says Chris Hessler, assistant nurse manager of NICU daily operations.
“Telemedicine family communication can really help facilitate bonding when mom can’t be here physically,” she says. “It helps answer some of those questions they may be asking, such as, ‘Where is my baby?’ ‘What is his room like?’ This technology is not over-stimulating for baby, and it decreases fears for mom.”
Since many moms aren’t able to be with their babies in the NICU all the time, Hessler says they are also using telemedicine to help them connect from home with moms reading to their babies or just saying goodnight.
As a champion for the use of telemedicine, St. Louis Children’s Hospital newborn medicine specialist Dr. Jeffrey Dawson believes the use of this technology is just scratching the surface.
“The opportunity to bridge the distance that sometimes occurs between mom and baby is invaluable,” he says. “When moms have a NICU baby and they can’t be there to see their baby, hear their baby or talk to their baby, it can be stressful. We know that hearing adult voices, particularly mom’s voice, is so important to the development of a baby.”
There are also other ways telemedicine is being used between hospitals, including physician-to-physician communication and education.
Dr. Dawson says at one time there were concerns that the technology might get in the way of caring for a sick baby, but there are now instances where the use of telemedicine has helped determine if and when a baby would require transport.
“In time, we have found out that there are helpful uses for telemedicine, and we are learning more on a case-by-case basis,” he adds.