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6th December 2014

When it comes to incubators, mother knows best

With around 10% of all babies in Europe born prematurely and many others born with an illness, it is inevitable that lots of parents will get the first glimpses and touches of their newborns through the walls of an incubator.

Scientists are working hard to make these life-saving units more “womb-like”, but mums with first-hand experience wish more could be done to improve incubators from the outside, too. For example, simply lowering the height or adding a head rest can make all the difference in the world for parents who are desperate to get closer to their little ones.

Clare, whose twins spent their first eight weeks in incubators, suggests “a pull-out drawer for mummy to rest [her] head next to baby [and] better height adjustment so sitting next to them and being able to clearly see”. Henny also says “A little fold down ledge attached to the side to lay your head on so your faces can be nearer would have been lovely.”

Many other mums besides Clare struggle with the incubator’s height, including Amy Louise, whose son was born at just under 35 weeks. “After a C-section and general anaesthetic I found it hard to stand beside the incubator to touch my little one and it wasn’t comfortable stretching up from a chair,” she says.

Dr. Martin Ward Platt, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, UK, agrees that there is room for improvement in this area. “You commonly see mums hunched up with their nose pressed against the Perspex. I think we could do better than that,” he says.

He adds that a key ingredient is the support doctors should give to parents to help them cope with the fear and heartbreak of being separated from their newborns: “There’s no harm in creative technology, so long as you don’t lose sight of human interaction.”

Reference: European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants, About Prematurity

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