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Preemies dressed for a luau in the hospital help their parents smile

Seeing your preemie baby in the hospital is stressful. So these nurses used the Hawaiian spirit of aloha to help parents feel better.
by Meghan Holohan / / Source: TODAY
Parents with babies in the Special Care Unit of SwedishAmerican Hospital often feel sad that they don't have their babies home with them. Seeing them dressed up and having their pictures taken helps reduce some of their stress.
Parents with babies in the Special Care Unit of SwedishAmerican Hospital often feel sad that they don't have their babies home with them. Seeing them dressed up and having their pictures taken helps reduce some of their stress.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

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After Elizabeth Alberts delivered her son, Andrew, a month early, the doctors whisked him away to the Special Care Unit at SwedishAmerican Hospital. They needed to monitor his breathing and give him a feeding tube because he struggled to suck and swallow. She worried for her newborn.

“It was a little overwhelming because he was in an incubator. He had a feeding tube in his nose,” Alberts, 33, of Rockford, Illinois, told TODAY. “I was a little sad that I couldn’t take him home but knew this is what he needed to get stronger.”

When Elizabeth Alberts learned her son Andrew had to be in the Special Care Unit she felt sad he wouldn't have as many special moments with her. When the nurses dressed him for a day at the beach, she loved seeing him dressed for fun.
When Elizabeth Alberts learned her son Andrew had to be in the Special Care Unit she felt sad he wouldn't have as many special moments with her. When the nurses dressed him for a day at the beach, she loved seeing him dressed for fun.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

Alberts and her partner Alex Maldonado, 28, adjusted to life with Andrew in the Special Care Unit — a ward for babies who need more care than healthy babies but less care than babies in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — but there were many difficult days. That's why they felt grateful when they saw Andrew dressed in a swimsuit ready for a photo shoot with a photographer. Dressing the babies like they were at a luau was part of the staff's effort to make the hospital feel less scary for parents. And, it worked.

“He looked pretty cute. The bathing suit was a little big,” Alberts said. “But he might not get to wear it for a while.”

Seeing their babies in swimsuits decked out for a day at the beach gave parents with children in the Special Care Unit such joy. It felt like the break from the stresses of the hospital.
Seeing their babies in swimsuits decked out for a day at the beach gave parents with children in the Special Care Unit such joy. It felt like the break from the stresses of the hospital.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

Nurse Amy Mayberry said she and her coworkers plan events, such as the beach day, because it helps parents cope with the stress of having a sick baby stuck in the hospital.

“Obviously the babies can’t go outside,” she told TODAY. “We wanted to do something summery to put a smile on their faces, to brighten up their day.”

Parents love having a professional picture of their children to share with friends and family to show how they are progressing in the hospital.
Parents love having a professional picture of their children to share with friends and family to show how they are progressing in the hospital.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

All the parents received photos of their babies dressed in their swimwear and this helps parents create memories just like they would if their babies were at home.

“It brings them this unexpected joy in a time that they were overwhelmed and stressed,” Mayberry said. “They look back in their baby books and are thankful they have those memories that they wouldn’t haven’t even remembered.”

Babies in the Special Care Unit got a chance to celebrate summer when nurses dressed them up as if they were going to the beach.
Babies in the Special Care Unit got a chance to celebrate summer when nurses dressed them up as if they were going to the beach.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

Dr. Carol Castelino, a neonatologist at SwedishAmerican in Rockford, Illinois, said anything that fosters bonding helps premature and sick babies recover faster.

A hospital who dressed up babies for a luau.
Babies and their families enjoyed a day at the beach to help them forget about the stress of being stuck in the hospital.Courtesy of Joanna Shilling

“Their long-term improvement increases greatly,” she told TODAY. “We want to give them a sense of normalcy. Their expectation is to bring their babies home with them but now they are here … This gives them something to smile about.”

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