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“Experiences Strengthen Synapses” – Why this Phrase is Vital to your NICU Practice

Dr. Mcgrath

Just a few of the comments from the 2013 NANT Conference about Dr. McGrath’s
presentation on Epigenetics and Experience in Neonatal Intensive Care.

When planning the 2013 NANT Conference, Dr. Jacqueline McGrath and I had a little laugh over the placement of her talk in the agenda. The topic “Epigenetics and Experiences in Neonatal Intensive Care” might seem, at first glance, a deep topic to kick of the morning of day 2. But my confidence in the placement of this talk came from insider knowledge on two counts:

  1. I’ve heard Dr. McGrath speak at other national conferences. I knew she’d bring her “A game”. And she did. Complex and amazing content delivered with accuracy, humor and inspiration.

  2. I know YOU as an audience. (Because I AM you.) Sure, not everyone who strolled into the room that morning, coffee in hand, knew what epigenetics was. But I knew by the end of the presentation you’d be captivated.

How did I know you’d be intrigued?

Because it explains SO much about WHY we do what we do as neonatal therapists.

As defined in Dr. McGrath’s presentation, epigenetics is the study of those factors or experiences that alter whether DNA will be expressed without altering the DNA sequence.

It explains why we protect the process of neurodevelopment as well as support it. It’s why it bothers you (all neonatal caregivers, not just therapists!) to see an infant experience things like pain, swift handling or poor feeding interventions. And why we advocate for positive experiences like skin to skin holding and human versus procedural touch. Experiences shape us more than we ever knew.

It’s impossible for me to adequately explain this complex topic in a brief article. But one thing is clear:

Experiences strengthen synapses (both positive and negative experiences). Experience matters. The environment matters. How you provide care matters. More than you EVER understood before.

**This extends way beyond our original education about cell memory. And it supports our involvement in the NICU.

I’m telling you this today because it’s vital that you have a deep understanding of what we do and why we do it. AND so you’re able to verbalize your value to a parent, manager or hospital administrator.

And the extra bonus? Understanding this information changes you – as a caregiver, and if applicable, as a mother or father yourself.

I challenge you to watch this presentation and remain unaffected by the implications of the science.

It made me more motivated than ever to protect and support the critical periods of brain development happening right in our hands, right in that incubator, right on the mother’s chest as we go about our days in the NICU. The effects may not only be lifelong for the infant, but may affect generations to come.

Seriously. Amazing.

And I’ll speak for myself here: learning that my experiences and stresses may change what I pass along (genetically) to my children and grandchildren is enough to make me change the way I live, parent and lead.

Even though the conference is over, you can still access this vital information presented by Dr. McGrath. But here’s the thing: there are just 5 days left to do so. I really don’t want you to miss this!

Click here to take advantage of this opportunity!

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