Most pregnancies last 40 weeks. Babies born before the 37th week are known as a premature or pre-term baby. Infants born too soon or too sick are immediately transferred to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they may stay for a few days or for months.
50,000 babies are admitted to the NICU each year, and that number is likely to increase, as the premature birth rate in the US worsened in 2016 for the first time in eight years.
The NICU can be a stressful experience for new parents, because nothing can prepare a parent for their newborn baby being taken away to the NICU, instead of going home with them.
Upon the admission of an infant to the NICU, most parents are confronted with the critical care environment for the first time, i.e. with a lot of activity they do not understand, as well as 'scary machinery' such as incubators, ventilators, and IVs.
Because of this, many parents experience fear, confusion, and high levels of distress, including increased anxiety and depression, as compared to parents of healthy infants.
Such experiences of distress are also thought to be related to the early separation of the infant from parents, as well as isolation, both physical and emotional, from their baby, especially during lengthy stays in the NICU.
This rollercoaster of emotions and worry doesn't end once the parents and their babies are discharged from the hospital but continues years after.
This is the reason why parents come with many questions and expectations as soon as they enter the NICU, wondering who are the people caring for their baby, if they would provide the best possible care, or what parents should know before taking their baby home.
Being prepared and informed is an important process that can improve parents' confidence during their NICU stay and beyond, while they prepare to bring their baby home.
Today's parents rely largely on mobile devices and apps to keep connected and informed. Smartphones and mobile apps can be used to address some of the needs of parents of premature and sick babies by helping them better understand the whole NICU experience.
For 80 years, March of Dimes – a United States nonprofit organization - has been working to improve the health of mothers and babies by preventing premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality, as well as promoting a healthy pregnancy.
March of Dimes recently released a free app for Android and iPhone called My NICU Baby, which is designed to help parents of premature and sick babies with the experience during the NICU stay and transition home.
Upon downloading and opening the app, parents are required to create an account by providing their name, email address, and ZIP code.
My NICU Baby features several sections on the home page, including Learn, Trackers, NICU partners, Take Photos, and Favorites.
The two most important sections are Learn and Trackers. Learn section provides educational resources, covering various topics from caring for the baby in NICU to development, as well as educational videos for parents covering topics from caring for the baby to caring for themselves.
The app content does not contain references but comes from the reputable and trusted source. The app links to many evidence-based resources tho, including AHRQ, HealthyChildren.org, and others.
Trackers section, as its name suggests, provides various tracker tools that parents can use to track feeding, pumping, weight, etc.
There are also checklists for going home, as well as questionnaires for medical care after NICU and follow-up visits. The app also provides vaccine schedules, however, this doesn’t look particularly well on smaller screen.
NICU Partners or NICU Family Support section utilizes user's location to provide a list of nearby hospitals with NICU. Not all locations in the US are available, but I expect that the list would be expanded in future updates.
Parents can also add contacts, such as NICU staff, pediatrician, pharmacist, and so on, along with their phone numbers, email, and address.
My NICU Baby app allows users to take photos by utilizing device's camera. Unfortunately, this didn't work while I was testing the app. The app would simply shut down when trying to access the camera.
Parents can connect to other NICU parents and families in the discussion boards, which aren't available from the home screen, but you need to tap on the Menu button and then choose 'Share Your Story' section.
Overall, My NICU Baby is a great app that provides a large amount of educational content, as well as trackers and checklist to the families with an infant in the NICU, helping them make the most of one of the most stressful experiences in one parent's life.
Benefit: Parent and families with an infant in the NICU would benefit from this app. NICU nurses and neonatologists, pediatricians, and any other provider who cares for infants in the NICU may use the app as well.