A new program at the neonatal intensive care unit at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital is allowing new parents to keep close watch over their babies, even if they can’t be near the hospital.
The program, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, has webcams livestreaming 24/7 from the bedsides of the hospital’s neonatal patients to family members’ screens.
Dr. Sibasis Daspal, who spearheaded the project, said 10 cameras were installed in late July.
The webcams livestream to a private account. Parents are given a login and password and can share that information with family members anywhere in the world. The family can then see the newborn patient via any device: desktop, tablet or smartphone.
Daspal said it may help alleviate some of the stress parents go through after birth, increase bonding between the parents and the child and even help with breastfeeding. Moms can see their babies whenever and wherever they’re using their breast pump.
‘It’s meant a great deal’
Erin Trytten gave birth to triplets nine weeks premature earlier this month and said seeing her babies in the NICU “was for sure emotional, even though we knew that’s what would happen and that would be their care plan.”
She and her husband are one of the first sets of parents to have access to a webcam. For her livestream, the camera will be centred on one baby at a time for the weeks that the triplets are in hospital.
“I can check in at any time and feel less anxious about leaving the babies,” she said.
Trytten is staying nearby at the Ronald McDonald House and uses the livestream often, but as they’re a farming and ranching family, it’s been an even more vital link for her husband.
“Right now my husband is harvesting and he is unable to be here on a daily basis, and he can check in on the baby that has the camera at any point as well.”
Trytten’s mother, Raelene Gibson, lives in Alberta and checks on the triplets three times a day.
RaleIt gives you more of a contact, and a bond, and it also gives you reassurance,” Gibson told CBC News in a telephone interview.
The NICU nursing manager, Adele Riehl, says frontline nurses were initially uncomfortable with the idea.
“Staff were apprehensive,” Riehl said. “They were worried about it, thinking ‘Oh, they’re going to be recording everything we’re saying and watching us work.’ But they’re not. There’s no audio on the cameras; it’s just video.”
The nurses pause the video feed when they’re providing medical care or touching the babies.
Sarah Rhoads, an associate professor at Arkansas University for Medical Sciences, has studied the impact of NICU cameras and isn’t surprised to hear about concerns from nurses and, at times, parents.
In the United States, hospitals in 14 states already use the cameras.
“It does cause stress or anxiety when the mother or father views the baby and it’s crying, or it’s in an uncomfortable position, or the camera is off. Mothers and fathers automatically assume the worst,” Rhoads said.
Research suggests this can result in more phone calls to the neonatal unit and increased workload for nurses who must reassure families, she said.
However, overall, studies show a positive impact.