Watch these nurses soothe a preemie baby with a Christmas carol

Amid the rush of last-minute shopping, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is spending Christmas at home with their families. Staff at Sunnybrook hospital have released a moving reminder that some people, including the city’s tiniest babies, will be spending the holidays in the hospital.

'Babies love voices,' Sunnybrook NICU parent co-ordinator says. 'It calms them.'

Nurses Marieneth Montenegro and Lisa Sampson sing to baby Anya in the Sunnybrook NICU earlier this month. (Sunnybrook)

Amid the rush of last-minute shopping, it's easy to forget that not everyone is spending Christmas at home with their families.

Staff at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have released a moving reminder that some people, including the city's tiniest babies, will be spending the holidays in the hospital.

In a minute-long video posted on the hospital's blog and social media feeds, two nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to baby Anya, who was born on Dec. 11.

Little Anya, her knit Santa hat a cozy contrast to her feeding and breathing tubes, sleeps peacefully as the nurses, also wearing Santa hats, sing to her.

The idea for the video came from Kate Robson, a parent co-ordinator at the NICU, who marvelled at the nurses' beautiful singing voices as they serenaded their tiny patients. Marieneth Montenegro and Lisa Sampson are both veteran nurses who understand that babies are comforted by the sound of human voices singing.

"Babies love voices, and they love singing, and it's something we try to encourage," Robson told CBC Toronto.

"It calms them and it de-stresses them."

While the best thing for babies is the sound of their parents' voices, Robson said, nurses who can carry a tune can fill in.

Dwight Drummond speaks to Sunnybrook Hospital's neonatal nurses

6 years ago
Duration 3:56
CBC Toronto anchor Dwight Drummond speaks to two nurses from Sunnybrook Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit who sang a Christmas carol to one of the tiny babies in their care.

'They are our family'

Montenegro, who is marking her eighth year as a nurse and her sixth year at Sunnybrook in 2017 , said she can't always sing to the babies. 

"I'll hum to them softly," she told CBC Toronto. "Sometimes you don't want to be too loud, and other times you don't have the time to."

But she learned the effect singing can have on babies first-hand well before she became a nurse. She would sing to her niece and nephew, both of whom were preemies.

Because of that personal connection, "I can't see working in another department," she said.

Staff at the hospital who have watched the video noticed little Anya's vital signs on the monitor, which showed she was calm as her nurses sang to her.

"That is one of the things we read and look at all the time," she said.

She hopes the video shows that there's more to nursing than giving standard medical care.

"At the end of the video it says 'Happy holidays from our family to yours.' I guess the message is that with families being in the NICU they are our family, as well, as much as the baby," she said.

In the video, a nurse's hand is seen resting on Anya, another key component of care for premature babies, according to Robson. 

"Human touch is the best medicine for babies," she said. While "the golden medicine" is the parents' touch, nurses treat preemies with "two-person care," so while they are treating the baby, even feeding or changing a diaper, someone else always has a hand on the baby.

Baby Anya's parents released a statement through the hospital to say that their daughter "is doing very well," and they are looking forward to bringing her home to be with them and her big brother in the new year.

Baby Anya, who was born at Sunnybrook on Dec. 11, sleeps as two nurses serenade her with a Christmas carol. (Sunnybrook)

'It's a time of astonishing vulnerability'

Robson raised the idea for the video to show "this beautiful world at the NICU."

"I wanted people to see what loving care looks like."

Robson, whose own children were born at 25 and 32 weeks and so were themselves patients in the NICU, also wants people to think of families that are spending the holidays in the NICU, "which can be really hard."

The hospital tries to make the atmosphere as festive as possible, with holiday dinners, a visit with Santa (a dressed-up neonatologist) and Santa hats and other clothing made for the babies by volunteers.

The NICU team also raises money to buy groceries and gift cards and other items parents might need to get through the holidays, Robson said.

"It's a time of astonishing vulnerability," she said. "You are so vulnerable, and the fact that people treat you with so much kindness and thoughtfulness, it matters so much."

Robson has worked at the NICU as a parent co-ordinator for six years, and she remembers well the fear and uncertainty.

"It's hard to imagine when you look at this little bean, 'what does the future hold?'" Robson said.

"So it's nice to be able to be there and support people and reassure them that they are in the right place, and even though things got off to a rocky start they can have a wonderful future."


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