(HealthDay News) — Preemies may fare better when newborn intensive care units (NICUs) set up private rooms for parents to spend time with their infants, according to research published online September 22 in Pediatrics.

The findings are based on over 400 preterm newborns placed in the Women & Infants NICU in Rhode Island between 2008–2012. During that time, the unit was transformed from a traditional open-bay layout to one with private rooms.

Barry Lester, PhD, who directs the Center for the Study of Children at Risk at the Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, and colleagues noted that, overall, newborns did better afterward. When the researchers looked for some explanations for the benefit, two factors stood out: mothers’ involvement in feeding, bathing, and changing diapers; and developmental support, such as occupational therapy. After the NICU switched to private rooms, 65% of infants received developmental support, vs. 46% before.

Previous research has shown that environment benefits newborns. Lester told HealthDay that his team’s findings confirm that, and point to some reasons why – including the bigger role for mothers in caring for their babies. “We see that mothers’ involvement is really making a difference,” Lester said. With the private rooms, his team found, mothers bathe their babies and breast-feed more often, and have more “skin to skin” contact with their newborn — which research has shown to have a soothing effect on infants’ nervous systems.

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