Health Team

Home visits help parents of preemies

Posted April 16, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2009 7:07 p.m. EDT

Babies born premature often suffer developmental delays or difficulties that can mean many trips to the doctor or hospital. WakeMed is trying to help families avoid some of those trips, instead, sending infant specialists to help parents in the home.

WakeMed has a team of a team of specialists trained specifically to help families with babies born premature. For years, those specialists have worked with families in the hospital. Now, using funds from the state's Smart Start program, they can pay home visits.

In the first six months of life, a baby develops critical motor skills like holding his head up, grasping, eating solid food and sleeping through the night. Babies born premature develop those skills more slowly than full-term babies.

Beth Cooper, a family infant specialist, explained, "They're neurologically less mature because those brains were born early."

Cooper visits families with premature babies born weighing less than three pounds for a six-month period.

She often finds frustrated parents in great need of support and information. "It makes the transition easier, because they can get some strategies to help address it," Cooper said.

Heidi Mayhugh is among the WakeMed clients that Cooper serves. Her daughter Isabel, now six months old, was born 11 weeks early.

"She acts like a 3-month-old, not like an almost-6-month-old," Mayhugh said. "She's definitely not ready for any food."

Cooper encourages Mayhugh to give Isabel more time sitting up and on her tummy to help strengthen her muscles and prevent head flatness from laying down in one position too long.

Isabel is Mayhugh's fourth child. All were born premature. Even with her experience, she finds value in Cooper's help. "It's been really encouraging to me, because I don't expect so much from (Isabel)," Mayhugh said.

With Cooper's help, Mayhugh realizes Isabel is progressing just fine, and at her own pace.