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Speech, Physical Therapy Important For Development of Premature Infants

August 26, 2015

Most of us connect speech and physical therapies with recovery from a stroke, surgery or an injury. But it’s not just older kids and adults who can benefit from rehab services. Babies born prematurely need this type of care as well.

When Jeanne Price of St. Charles gave birth to her twins by emergency C-section in January 2015, little Danielle and Mackenzie Price were just 29 weeks into their development. A baby is considered “premature” if born before 37 weeks of gestation.

Shortly after their births, the girls were transferred to Edward Hospital’s Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The NICU team includes neonatologists, nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, speech and physical therapists, and others.

Price says her babies needed help with the typical preemie challenges: temperature regulation, breathing support and an NG tube (a tube that delivers food through the nose to the stomach). And, she learned what to look for and how to assist in Danielle and Mackenzie’s speech and physical development.

Recognize signs for speech & physical development

“Part of the process is educating parents about their baby’s stress signs, such as raising an eyebrow or grimacing,” says Rachel Montgomery, speech pathologist, Edward Physical Therapy & Rehab Services. “These cues help us determine whether the baby is ready for oral feeding (bottle and/or breast) and how much food he or she can tolerate. When we follow a baby’s cues, we can manage the feeding better so the baby doesn’t fatigue as quickly or become stressed.”

Speech therapists also offer advice about bottle and nipple selection and frequency of oral feeding attempts.

“We make recommendations to the NICU team and the parents about positioning and handling the infants,” says Julie Loos, a physical therapist at Edward. “For example, we show them how to use positioning devices in a way that encourages the baby to bring her arms and legs into a midline position, something that can be difficult for premature infants because of a lack of muscle tone. But mastering this will eventually help with feeding, grabbing and rolling.”

Danielle went home in March, about nine weeks after being born, and Mackenzie left the hospital in April, about 11 weeks following her birth. They continued therapy in Edward’s outpatient rehab department where their physical and speech therapy sessions were coordinated to make it more convenient for the Prices.

The twins also visit Edward’s Newborn Developmental Follow-up Clinic, where they’ll be seen by a neonatologist, nurse, physical therapist and speech therapist for about two years. The clinic offers follow-up assessments to all former NICU patients who meet certain criteria, such as being born at under 30 weeks’ gestation or not meeting appropriate developmental milestones.

As needed, the Clinic recommends additional outpatient therapy or referrals to other pediatric or child development specialists.

“We were very happy to learn the babies had no developmental delays for their corrected age, and needed no further therapy at that time,” says Price. “Having the support and a resource to call is very reassuring. We’ve been lucky to have a whole team of people to give us pointers and keep us on the right path.”

For more information, visit www.edward.org/nicu and www.edward.org/rehab.

(Source: positivelynaperville.com)


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