The baby was so tiny - a mere 3 1/2 pounds. Alexa and Albert were not expecting their baby for six more weeks. He was now in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit), hooked up to various beeping machines, long thin tubes, and shiny gadgets. Though the doctors were saying that little Fredi would be home in a few weeks, Mom and Dad could hardly imagine this. "How could we ever know what to do without the nurses to run all the machines!" Alexa declared.
Sarah had been a NICU nurse for twenty years. She had witnessed the amazing ability of medical technology to contribute to keeping babies alive and eventually sent home healthy. Interestingly, she had noted a worrisome tendency in both staff and parents in these units - to watch the machines more than the baby. Her job was to increase her unit's sensitivity to how much a tiny baby can communicate about himself.
If the NICU lights were suddenly turned up, little Fredi sent his hand up in a "salute" as if to cover his eyes. Beeping of the machine beside him would cause Fredi's face to turn pale and the tip of his nose to go almost white. Having his temperature checked and his diaper changed could cause his heart rate to go up and his breathing to increase. He might arch his back, hyper-extend his legs, and jerk his arm outward. A hand which had been resting almost in a grasp would suddenly splay open.
Fredi is smart. He can talk with his body, and his parents quickly learned to read this important language. The NICU staff "clustered" his care so that he could rest longer between activitie. Mom held him Kangaroo style on her chest so that he could sleep deeper, and everyone learned to speak quieter and less often around his isolette. Premie babies who are cared for in this "developmentally appropriate" way gain weight faster, have less slowing of their heartbeat, leave the NICU sooner, and have fewer long-term consequences of coming into this world a bit too soon.
Learning to watch their baby instead of the machine gave Alexa and Albert just the confidence they needed. Four weeks later they left the hospital with a healthy baby, nursing well, and well on his way to claiming his spot as the new prince of the family!