Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Strategy

Why Developmental Care Is a Hallmark of NICU Strategy for Preemies

Mother holds premature infant
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Developmental care is a strategy used in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to help reduce the amount of stress that a premature infant is exposed to. Since NICU units can be loud, bright places where alarms and blood draws make it hard for babies to rest, grow, and get better, developmental care helps NICUs be more "baby friendly."

Basic Strategies for Developmental Care

There are many specific strategies that are part of developmental care.

Strategies for Care

Some of the most basic include:

  • Positioning babies in comfortable, flexed positions
  • Clustering nursing care (doing blood pressures, temperatures, etc. all at once) to provide longer periods of sleep
  • Turning down lights and providing a quiet, darkened environment
  • Encouraging parent visitation and kangaroo care

How Developmental Care Affects Your Preemie

Using developmental care in NICUs may help babies grow and get well faster and promote brain development. Developmental care helps make the transition from womb to world a little bit easier for premature or sick infants. Developmental care has been shown to reduce long-term cognitive and behavioral problems and decrease mortality rates.

According to a 2003 review of studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, developmental care has been shown to "[improve] short-term growth and feeding outcomes, [decrease] respiratory support, [decrease] length and cost of hospital stay, and [improve] neuro-developmental outcomes to 24 months corrected age."

Your Role in Developmental Care in the NICU

While it may seem like you are not a part of care in the NICU, your cooperation with nurses and doctors supports the developmental care they seek to provide. By honoring the time periods and type of touch allowed in the NICU, you are supporting your child and being a part of the medical team care for your child.

Collaboration is key to ensuring that your baby becomes familiar with you, but also that any kinks in care do not result.

As long as you do your part to follow the guidelines set for you, your family, and your preemie, things can go smoothly.

Transitioning From Developmental Care to Home

Use some of the tools you've learned in developmental care when your baby is ready to go home. Your baby may have spent a considerable time in the NICU and maintaining the schedule and environment created with some modifications is best. By easing your baby into home life, you allow him or her to be less stressed as was the goal of developmental care in the NICU.

Hospital life can be daunting, but developmental care is meant to make it easier on parents and preemies. Just as you had help 24-hours a day in the NICU, you may initially arrange for family, friends, and home nurses to assist you in caring for your preemie. You may feel overwhelmed to care for your baby alone, after having had so much guidance with the NICU.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Macho P. Individualized Developmental Care in the NICU: A Concept Analysis. Adv Neonatal Care. 2017;17(3):162-174. doi:10.1097/ANC.0000000000000374

  2. Symington A, Pinelli J. Developmental care for promoting development and preventing morbidity in preterm infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD001814. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001814

By Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN
Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse in a tertiary level neonatal intensive care unit at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia.