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8th December 2014

Mums tell doctors how to make incubators more motherly

“Womb sounds.” “Mother’s smell.” “Less scary.” These are just some of the things that new mums wish they could change about incubators to make them seem more like the real deal.

After reading about the German Hohenstein Institute’s work to make incubators more “motherly”, loads of women whose babies spent time in incubators chimed in with their own ideas on the This Is MedTech facebook page.

Adele suggests for example “a recording of a mother’s womb and clothing from the mother [for her smell]”, as well as “soothing music to calm the distress they must be feeling”. The hard, sterile appearance of the incubator is also daunting to parents. Claire, whose son was born at 33 weeks, says that she and her husband were scared by “how big and thick the plastic was” and questions whether it’s really necessary. “Surely there are other ways with modern technology,” she comments.

So how feasible are these ideas and is there an alternative to the “big plastic box”?

Dr. Martin Ward Platt, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, UK, says “There’s a lot of room for being creative and baby-friendly, but we’ve got to think about what we’re trying to achieve ‒ in other words, keeping the baby safe.” The Perspex protects babies from the noisy environment outside, and there are regulations about noise levels, “so we’d have to think carefully about the notion of putting new noise inside,” he adds.

In terms of making the space more personal, it’s fine to have objects that can be reliably cleaned or to put pictures on the outside of the Perspex. However, it gets more difficult with items like a sibling’s soft toy, when “you run into ‘infection control’ territory,” says Dr Ward Platt. “As far as clothing in the incubator is concerned, it would probably be a step too far from the point of view of infection control, though how much sense that makes when one is simultaneously advocating skin-to-skin [contact] is an interesting and unresolved point,” he says.

The best approach, in his view, is to “work with parents to make the whole thing not so scary and make it as pleasant as possible. The technology and the human aspect go hand in hand.”

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