Infant enrichment

When Cynthia Spencer was expecting her third child, she didn’t count on him arriving early.
“He was 24 weeks,” said Spencer, 32, who along with husband William, 33, welcomed William Spencer III on March 25. “He weighed a pound and 15 ounces.”
Little Will joins sisters Zanqueria, 14, and Gabriel, 10, who was born in another city at 30 weeks gestation and needed extra attention the hospital couldn’t provide.
Through the Health Department, “They had a program called early intervention,” Spencer recalled. “They had therapists, nurses, and a teacher who worked with her until she was 3.”
Will’s situation was different. He was born at North Mississippi Medical Center’s Women’s Hospital, where an infant enrichment team in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit provides occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists to work with premature babies whose motor and feeding skills aren’t yet fully developed.
‘It takes everybody’
The NICU infant enrichment team evaluate neonatal patients at risk for or exhibiting deficits in all areas of development, said Betsy Knight, the NICU clinical coordinator.
“It takes everybody,” Knight said, noting the interdisciplinary approach “is support for the parents to have great outcomes for our babies.”
Occupational therapist Lydia Thomas said a common problem with preemies is getting them adjusted to their new environment.
“One of the big things that we work on is helping normalize movements,” Thomas said.
Before being born, babies like Will are comfortable in the womb. “Then all of a sudden he’s got gravity pulling on him and medical measures with tubes that are necessary for life,” she said. To help, “We do range of motion, we do positioning, and we do infant massage techniques.”
The speech-language pathologist looks at oral motor control and input, working with different types of bottles and nipples and feeding positions for premature newborns.
“They also perform tests to make sure the baby is swallowing effectively,” speech-language pathologist Dana Hobby said.
Connor’s challenges
Connor Clark’s prematurity – he was born three months early – contributed to feeding issues when he was an infant.
“He had trouble sucking a bottle because he had to be tube fed at first,” recalled the 5-year-old’s mom, Melinda Clark.
Left-side weakness also is attributed to Connor’s early birth, but it hasn’t stopped him from playing T-ball and being a regular kid. “He’s developing pretty much on a 5-year-old level.”
Without the assistance of the infant enrichment team, as well as visits to the NICU Follow-up Clinic housed at Longtown Medical Park, children born prematurely “are at risk for developmental delays,” Thomas said, noting that “consistency pays off in the long run.”
“I’m very thankful for the team here, really the whole hospital,” Clark said. “You can’t do it without them.”
“They have been wonderful,” added Spencer, who got to take Will home from the NICU on July 8. “We believe that God was the main reason that everything worked out. We really do.”
Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or ginny.miller@djournal.com.

Ginny Miller/NEMS Daily Journal