Most NICUs across Northeast Ohio and the rest of the nation have transformed from the traditional open-ward model to all private rooms, or will soon. While they’re a hit with parents, research shows that the isolation and privacy of single rooms are a double-edged sword: while babies whose parents are around a lot seem to thrive in a private room, growing faster and leaving the hospital sooner, babies left largely on their own in these rooms can suffer language and developmental delays. Hospitals with single-family NICUs are adapting in many ways to mitigate the potential risks of isolation for both parents and babies. At Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio, a team of more than 100 “cuddlers” will hold, read or sing to babies whose parents are not at the NICU. Child Life specialists, who work with kids and families to make the hospital stay better, are also stepping into the neonatal units to interact with babies and teach parents how to do so themselves. “Being in your own room is great as long as you have someone there,” says Dr. Jennifer Grow, MEDNAX-affiliated neonatologist at Akron Children’s. “But we’re also mindful that if your family isn’t here as much, you may even be at a higher risk of concern.”

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