Nursery gives special care to babies who need it most

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The Special Care Nursery at Yampa Valley Medical Center stays dark, quiet and warm on purpose - it's meant to mimic a mother's womb.

Babies might be heard cooing or crying, and their monitors sometimes beep, but otherwise, the nursery is hushed.

Those conditions are best for babies who are born early or who are moderately sick. The Special Care Nursery can hold as many as five babies born under such conditions.

Babies born after less than 32 weeks in the womb, or babies with more severe illnesses, are flown - often with their mothers - to Denver for care.

But for those whom the Special Care Nursery can serve, staying close to home is easier on families emotionally and financially.

At the nursery, each baby is monitored around the clock, and receives a daily visit from a doctor and a neonatal nurse practitioner.

That special attention is important for pre-term babies, as all of their body systems are immature, said Tracie Line, neonatal nurse practitioner for YVMC. That means breathing, feeding, pumping blood and staying warm are difficult if not impossible for the baby to do on its own.

So at the Special Care Nursery, babies are given help with some or all those functions. A baby is kept warm, might be on a ventilator, and might be fed via a tube that goes into his or her stomach, for example.

All babies are vulnerable to infection because their immune systems are not developed, Line said. Babies delivered with an infection are kept in the Special Care Nursery to receive antibiotics and proactive care - an infection can overwhelm a baby quickly.

All babies also are vulnerable to jaundice. Sometimes it's enough to feed and give fluids to a baby, but some might need phototherapy, which they can receive at the Special Care Nursery.

One priority at the Special Care Nursery is involving the families of each baby that is checked in, Line said. As long as there is space at the hospitals, a mother can stay in a room close to the nursery so she is around to help feed, change and care for her baby.

Families also are kept informed on the plan of care for their babies through frequent conferences with doctors, nurses, case managers and others.

Babies who are pre-term or sick cannot handle the stimulation that comes from frequent touching or even eye contact, but parents are able to put a firm hand on their baby's head and bottom to provide some contact.

Giving birth to a baby who is early or sick is stressful for families, Line said, and all steps are taken to reduce that stress. "It's extremely stressful for families to have that loss of control," she said. "They don't walk out of here with a baby like other moms, and that's very stressful and emotional."

One mother in the nursery visiting her baby said she loves that she can call the nursery any time of day and night to talk with a nurse.

She can see how her son is doing and get any questions answered that she may have.

Babies can leave once they are gaining weight, maintaining their body temperature and taking food by mouth.

Without the nursery, families would find themselves in Denver getting care for their new babies. That option can be very costly and emotionally stressful.

The nursery served 65 babies in 2002, 71 babies in 2003 and 77 babies in 2004.

By the end of August in 2005, the nursery had served 49 babies. In 2004, a total of 386 babies were born at the hospital.

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