Family-centred care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
Even though your baby needs to be cared for by specialist staff in the NICU, you are your baby’s family. As family, you are your baby’s primary and long-term source of care, love and support. The strong bond between you and your baby starts from birth and should be fostered and nurtured throughout your baby’s time in hospital.
This is the principle of family-centred care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Family-centred care is high-quality care. It’s good for babies and their families because it:
- helps with bonding between parents and babies
- involves parents in decisions about their babies’ care and treatment
- helps parents feel respected, welcomed and comfortable in the NICU
- reduces the time babies spend in hospital
- might also help with babies’ long-term development.
Hospitals vary in whether they offer family-centred care and how much.
Your baby’s NICU might refer to ‘family-integrated care’. Family-centred care and family-integrated care are based on the same principle, but you can expect to be more involved in your baby’s care with family-integrated care.
What to look for in a NICU with family-centred care
In a NICU with family-centred care, you should feel welcome and be able to visit at any time.
You should also feel like a valued member of your baby’s care team. NICU staff should do things like:
- welcoming you by name and telling you how your baby has been since your last visit
- helping you learn how to care for your baby and making sure that you’re involved
- looking for the special things that only you can do for your baby
- taking every chance to help you bond with your baby
- asking you to share the special things you know and feel about your baby
- telling you what’s happening with your baby in clear and simple language so you can be involved in treatment decisions
- encouraging you to ask questions, share concerns and give feedback.
As a parent, you should have the chance to:
- talk, sing or read to your baby
- bath your baby, change nappies or help with positioning
- help with weighing or giving vitamins
- feed your baby
- have skin-to-skin contact with your baby
- comfort, breastfeed or hold your baby during painful procedures.
Ideally, family-centred care should give you the right involvement and information at the right time so that you feel supported and able to cope with the NICU experience. Hospital staff will do their best, but if you need more or less information or involvement at different times, it’s OK to let staff know.