Our Smooth Way Home program is an offshoot of the Fussy Baby Network. Erikson Institute’s Fussy Baby Network (FBN) helps families struggling with their infants’ (birth to 12 months) crying, sleeping, or feeding. Infant Specialists focus on supporting and empowering families around crying, sleeping, feeding, infant regulation, infant development, and the ups and downs of parenting. Fussy Baby Network serves any family through our free “warm line.” These free phone consultations are available in English and Spanish.
Just like Fussy Baby, Smooth Way Home is a prevention and support program for families, but it is focused on those who have experienced a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay. We use a developmental and relationship-based approach when supporting families through the medical ups and downs and the nuances that come with parenting a baby that has had a NICU experience.
In August 2022, the Fussy Baby Network/Smooth Way Home Program expanded with grant funding from the BRIDGES West Side Initiative and RUSH Hospital NICU. This initiative ensures that we can reach all families living on the West side of Chicago with NICU experience at RUSH Hospital. To date, we have connected with close to 50 families.
The RUSH NICU Smooth Way Home program combines in-person (on-unit) and virtual support. Infant Specialists go to the hospital and meet with families while there. When the families are discharged, support continues virtually for as long as the family feels like it is helpful. The families and the NICU team feel grateful and supported by the Smooth Way Home continuity of care, as evidenced by this quote from a family speaking about an Infant Specialist:
“This is a shout-out to an amazing person, Amy. I met Amy in the NICU; my daughter was only three days old. At that moment that Amy and I started to speak, I felt that someone understood me, and I was able to express my feelings and thoughts. I was scared, and vulnerable at that moment, due to my daughter being so small and fragile, in the NICU but Amy’s words gave me a lot of strength, and I knew I wasn’t alone. Amy and I still speak, and I can say that I feel wonderful, happy, and stress-free! having a person like her that cares and follows up with mamas like me. Thank you, Amy.”
“Typical” situations that the infant specialist may encounter when families that have transitioned out of RUSH NICU or are about to transition can vary, depending on the baby and the family or caregiver’s needs. There are often many unanswered questions as parents do not usually have a comfortable avenue to ask about parenting or development along with the medical questions. For example, if a parent is feeling sad, upset, or angry about their child being in a NICU, they may not feel comfortable sharing those feelings with medical personnel.
Sometimes the caregivers cannot be with their baby due to transportation or work or home life complications. When caregivers and babies are separated for periods of time, their bonding process can be disrupted. This is where the Smooth Way Home infant specialist comes in. They are a bridge to nurture that attachment even when distance is present. We think together with parents to find ways to feel connected to their babies. Some of these ways include playing a song for the baby that the caregivers have recorded, providing the caregiver with a detailed update and pictures of their baby, and giving the caregivers other ideas of what to do to promote attachment even with the distance.
Infant specialists are the go-to people for families to share their stories, worries, and celebrations. The infant specialist is also there for the transition home. At times, babies that have been in the NICU can be challenging to settle when they are fussy. Everyone has to adjust to the transition, including parents and caregivers, and everyone can experience a range of feelings. The infant specialist is there to provide a listening ear and an empathic response and to support both the infant and the parent in the best way that meets the family’s needs.
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