July 14 — PROVO — Premature babies are leaving the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) faster than ever before thanks to new feeding protocols being used at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
In the past, nurses adhered to an “every three hours” schedule for infant feedings. Now, those same nurses watch for signs from each infant to indicate when it’s time to eat. The change comes after months of research by the unit as part of an effort to reduce the length of hospital stay and parent/child separation.
“What we learned was if you allow babies the opportunity to tell you when they’re ready to feed, it will significantly accelerate the time when they reach full feedings and can be discharged to their parents,” said Stephen Minton, MD, neonatologist at Utah Valley Regional. “In addition, if we watch for certain cues or signs from the babies, many times they’ll take much more food.”
Feeding cue cards now adorn each bassinet to help clinicians and parents recognize a baby’s individual signs. Those signs may include:
• Mouth opening
• Turning head and rooting
• Stretching or increased physical movement
• Bringing hand to mouth
Babies also give cues that it’s time to stop eating including head bobbing, hand splay, refusing to open mouth, biting or drooling and falling asleep.
“By following this cue-based feeding model, we’ve found babies are ready to go home at much smaller sizes than we have ever seen before,” said Dr. Minton, adding an earlier discharge date also represents a cost benefit for both families and the hospital.