Premature babies are sometimes so small their entire head will snuggle neatly into the palm of your hand.
That leaves them in the hospital long after mom has been discharged, and means parents of premature babies can endure weeks of having to say goodbye to their little wonder each night and return home without them.
There’s no way of overstating the emotional trauma that can cause to new parents.
While little can be done to replicate the missing physical contact of the relationship, video conferencing does at least offer the chance for parents to watch over their child remotely from home. It’s a way to let parents sing their baby to sleep each night, even if they can’t physically rock them in their arms.
Video Calling in the ICU
Video conferencing has played a role in the developing lives of premature babies for more than a decade. It was used initially as a way to keep families who had just brought home onatal units, reducing the need for babies to be transported, and giving doctors and nurses a look at the home environment.
More recently, the technology has been deployed in ICUs themselves.
In Europe and the U.S., two-way VC cameras have been placed alongside infants’ cribs to let them see and hear their parents, and vice versa.
The 65-bed neonatal unit at the Utah Valley Medical Center, for example, was completely redesigned to maximize the impact of the unit’s three VC cameras. These cameras operate 24-hours a day and give secured access to parents who would otherwise be left totally disconnected from their baby.
In some cases, parents can add selected guests to the video link, giving grandparents the opportunity to watch as baby is bathed and cared for by ICU staff. With the power of the latest VC camera tech, the whole family can get up close and personal with their new sibling, niece or nephew, cousin, or grandchild.
Why Video Conference with Infants?
It’s been proven that even very young children can distinguish between the static nature of a television broadcast and the interactive conversation of video conferencing. The American Academy of Pediatrics thinks it might even be beneficial for young kids to make video calls.
While the premature babies in an ICU aren’t going to be as visually and aurally active as their older siblings, there’s evidence that even newborn babies find the sound of their mother’s voice soothing.
To maximize that impact, and to let parents form their own bonds with their baby, it’s best to remove as much hiss and crackle from a video calling connection as possible.
The leading VC webcams all sport some form of acoustic echo cancellation to render high fidelity sounds and filter out the background rattle and hum of everyday life. It’s just a matter of making sure the system setup crib-side has a strong enough codec to relay all baby’s little oohs and ahhs.
On the visual front it’s all about HD quality.
Dedicated Video Calling for Babies
Video conferencing hardware has become very good at sending highly complex data over average bandwidth. Even a 1 mb connection can be enough to support a video call. As most hospitals are given preferential treatment when it comes to broadband access though, there’s no reason why the ICU wouldn’t be able to relay HD quality images.
However, most affordable webcams are better at close-ups than they are at long distance zoom, so what might be in order is a dedicated video calling crib that can be accessed for a select period of time each day.
The suite could have a small flat screen mounted on one side, with a simple clip-on webcam nesting on top. It’d allow a far more intimate connection than the long distance cameras set up to swing across an entire ICU of wriggling babies.
Maybe the dedicated set-up should be attached to a common area, such as the ICU bath, where each child in turn could make a star appearance each day. A more active area like this could even open up the opportunity for group calling, giving baby a first look at the extended family all praying for his or her swift homecoming.
But the real purpose of all this VC tech is to let mom and dad get as close as they can to baby while the little one fights through the critical early days of life on the outside.