Family Support: The Role of Child Life In The NICU
A child life specialist's vital role helping parents and siblings
You may be surprised to see a child life specialist in one of the rooms at Cook Children’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). After all, this is an area devoted to babies.
But spend some time in one of those rooms and you will see a big part of the child life specialist’s job is to help patients through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life changes they may face. Even though NICU patients are tiny, child life specialists still play a vital role in not only providing support and stimulation for the child, but for the whole family.
“A lot of our parents need support during this time,” said Lauren Bridge, one of two child life specialists in the NICU. “In a way, it's a loss for them because they didn't have the pregnancy they expected. If they delivered early, they may have never had some of the experiences they anticipated.”
With the young patients, Bridge says she tries to focus on infant development and milestones. She and the other child life specialist, Lisa Pool, are always looking for ways to foster development, which could mean putting a mobile over the infant’s bed, making sure the lights are turned down or even just talking to them.
The other huge role they play is working with siblings. Often, parents aren’t sure whether or not they should bring their other children into the NICU. Bridge encourages NICU parents to include siblings in the baby’s care, though she says regressive behavior is common, especially among preschool age kids. This can mean wetting the bed even though they are potty trained, becoming clingier or refusing to sleep in their own bed. Child life specialists are there to help families navigate this stressful time and help siblings understand what is happening to their little brother or sister.
Ultimately, Bridge says she hopes she can help make NICU families’ time at Cook Children’s a little better.
“The best part of my job is seeing families become increasingly comfortable in the NICU and being an integrated part of their child’s care.”