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Developmental Care and Neonatal Therapy – We’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Babys Head

We’re orienting a new physical therapist in the NICU in which I work. (She’s awesome!) As part of that orientation, I was going through a presentation on brain and sensory development. And as I taught her about how and when each system develops and the effects of sensory interference, something occurred to me.

We’ve come a really long way!

When I started in the NICU (and many of you have been there longer than I have!), there were few such discussions.

Nationally, developmental care practices in the NICU were being evaluated and studied, and insightful recommendations were being made.

But at the bedside, these findings and recommendations were still considered something ‘extra’. Something ‘some units did’ if they had the luxury of great staffing or extra money. It was ‘soft’. It would never fly, this developmental care stuff.

While consulting, I was even told once that developmental care was just a buzzword, that it would run its course. That unit’s leadership wondered what all the fuss was about.

As therapists, we’ve always understood the fuss.

Because ‘development’ is how we are raised. Skill builds upon skill. Reflexes integrate well, or not. There are critical periods of development that if missed, may never be recovered in a functional way.

Add the fact that a preterm infant’s brain is growing more rapidly than ever AND laying down the foundation for all motor and sensory system development – and well, there you have the fuss.

It’s why as therapists, we see tummy time, in part, as a precursor to later fine motor and handwriting skills – a concept that may leave our non-therapist colleagues scratching their heads. It’s our job to see into the future in this way.

When I think of the fact that NANN is providing us with a couple copies of their Developmental Care for Newborns and Infants, 2nd Edition to give away at the NANT Conference, that developmental care is part of nearly every major national neonatal conference, and that we, as neonatal therapists are about to have our THIRD national conference – it makes me so happy!

Because while preterm infants necessitate intensive medical care, the world no longer ignores or denigrates the fact that they also require intensive developmental care.

Nationally and internationally, developmental care and neonatal therapy are securely on the map. And while we still have lots to learn, we have come such a long way.

The babies continue to teach us so much.

Most of all, they remind me of one of the first things I was taught in OT school:

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.