The Next Best Thing To Mom

Mother Nature has already provided the perfect place for your baby to grow — you. But for babies born prematurely, our newly expanded Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital is a close second. Every aspect of our calm, serene healing environment is designed to support your baby’s brain, sensory and physical development, while fostering strong parental attachment.

“It’s our responsibility to create an environment that is as protective as possible for growing and developing infants,” says Dr. Stephen Hanten, NICU medical director. “These recent enhancements to our unit will make it easier to provide a healing and nurturing environment for infants and their parents.”

The first things you’ll notice are the dimmed lighting and just how quiet it is. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you’d never know you were actually in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). You’d certainly never guess the NICU at CHOC Mission recently added six brand-new beds and more working space. That’s because every aspect of our recently expanded and remodeled unit is purposely designed to be as calm, serene and “womb-like” as possible.

Even our doctors, nurses and staff speak with lowered voices.

Going to such efforts to control light and sound might seem like a small detail for an intensive care unit that provides such sophisticated, highly advanced care for premature and critically ill newborns. But it is actually better medicine. These efforts are important protective measures, and CHOC Mission is meeting and exceeding standards recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A baby’s sight and hearing develop during the last couple months of pregnancy — ideally within the dark, calm, protective uterine environment. A baby born prematurely is exposed to noises and visual stimuli at a time when the still-developing brain is not yet ready. This may affect how the baby learns, processes, sees and hears, and ultimately impact school success later on.

“An infant’s brain is growing with every experience we provide, which is why we want as much of the physical environment to be as ‘Mom-like’ as possible,” said NICU Clinical Nurse Specialist Liz Drake, R.N., M.N. “How we practice today helps determine how this child will be at ages 3, 5, 15 and 30.”

Family Centered Care, Early Attachment

A baby may spend anywhere from a few days to a few months inside the CHOC Mission NICU. Each bed space is designed to make that stay as comfortable as possible.

Rooms in the new area are larger, providing more space for parents and nursing staff at the baby’s bedside. Updated technology and furnishings include “family chairs” carefully selected by parents with comfort in mind. All interior finishes, including flooring, window treatments and ceiling tiles, were chosen for noise-reduction qualities, as well as aesthetic design.

The goal is to encourage parents to stay longer— 24 hours, if possible. The baby-centric, family friendly approach promotes breast-feeding, strengthens the parent-child bond, and enhances the efforts of our expert physician and nursing staff.

“We ultimately want to create an environment that supports parent and infant attachment,” Dr. Hanten says. “Evidence shows, and we believe, that the more time parents spend with their infant and are involved in their infant’s care while in the hospital, the faster the infant grows and goes home.”

The CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital NICU is located on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital, 27700 Medical Center Rd., Mission Viejo, CA  92691. 

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