Edmonton

New research project aims to get premature babies home sooner

One in 12 babies in Alberta is born too soon, one of the highest rates of pre-term births in the country. The care of those premature babies costs the provincial government $35 million a year.

The care of premature babies costs $35 million a year in Alberta

Parents of premature babies at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton are taking part in a program that allows parents to have more hands-on care. 1:33

One in 12 babies in Alberta is born too soon, one of the highest rates of pre-term births in the country.

The care of these premature babies costs the provincial government $35 million a year.

After such births, the mothers usually go home, while the babies remain in hospital for weeks, until they're strong and healthy enough to leave.

A new research project called the Family Integrated Care study aims to have families leave the hospital sooner with healthier pre-term babies.

"We believe that if parents care for their babies in hospital, their babies will be healthier," said Dr. Khalid Aziz, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and a lead researcher on the project.

"Their babies will be in hospital for a shorter time, and the parents will be more confident about taking a premature baby home."

Currently the length of stay for a pre-term baby in a Level II Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit is 16 days, and Aziz said the project hopes to see that time reduced by at least 10 per cent.
Cory and Erica Thomas hold their premature twins Jacob and Arianna, born May 23, at 32 weeks and four days. (CBC)

Erica and Cory Thomas know about premature babies. Their twins, Arianna and Jacob, were born May 23, at 32 weeks and 4 days. 

Since their birth, the couple has been with the twins every step of the way.

"We have a say in how they're being cared for, when they're feeding and how they're feeding," Erica Thomas said. "And it just makes us feel like it brings back that instinctual piece of taking care of our babies. When you can't do that, it's really, really difficult."

Hundreds of babies to be studied

The Family Integrated Care study is open until March 2018. It will involve all 10 Level II NICU sites in Alberta, with approximately 600 babies and their parents enrolled. 

The clinical staff will provide training to the parents, who will participate in daily care with constant support from the health-care team. 

The study's investigators will then look to see how the babies do over the long term, and whether the children develop fewer medical complications.

Pre-term babies can be susceptible to jaundice, infections, as well as respiratory, feeding, and behavioural problems.