Developmental Care: Big Benefits for Premature Babies

There have been many advances in the care of sick and premature babies—not just in technology and medicine, but also in meeting the special emotional and developmental needs of these babies. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), babies are often subjected to tests, procedures, noises, and lights—all very different from the warm, dark, comfort of the mother’s womb. Some babies are too sick to be held or have difficulty comforting themselves when not being held. Premature babies especially need a supportive environment to help them continue to mature and develop as they would in their mother’s womb.

The practice of developmental care is used in many NICUs to meet babies’ special needs. Developmental care involves many aspects, from meeting comfort needs and helping babies feel secure and develop normal sleep patterns, to decreasing stimulation from noise, lights, or procedures. Research into developmental care is finding many benefits for babies, especially for premature babies, including shorter hospital stays, fewer complications, improved weight gain, better feeding, and enhanced parent/infant bonding.

Developmental care includes changes in:

  • The overall physical environment—changing the physical surroundings to provide normal day/night cycles and decrease noise and stress

  • The baby’s immediate environment—providing cushions for supporting the baby’s position and keeping the baby’s arms and legs in proper arrangement to help with development and comfort

  • The way care is provided—using signals from the baby to plan care at times when the baby is awake and least stressed rather than interrupting sleep patterns or performing procedures when the baby is at a high stress level

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.