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Specialized Care for NICU Babies & Families

*Parts of this blog post were taken from our original blog post, written by Jim Helm and James Perciaccante, MD.

Parents and caregivers recognize the importance and impact that developmental care has on the health and development of premature babies.

The Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) is an approach to providing developmentally supportive care to infants and families in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs).

Parents who are actively engaged in their infant’s care are more competent and confident in their decision making and parenting role.  – Dorothy Vittner, Director of the Carolina NIDCAP Training Center


Developed at Harvard Medical School more than 35 years ago, the NIDCAP program is based on careful observation and sensitive care with close parent involvement.

Dr. James Perciaccante, a board-certified neonatologist and Director of Neonatology for WakeMed points out the importance of NIDCAP and how it sets WakeMed apart from other local NICUs:

NIDCAP brings the home nursery atmosphere into the intensive care setting. We are still very much an intensive care unit, but we are an intensive care unit that believes the best way to help a baby grow and heal is to reduce stress on the baby and keep the environment as close to nature intended as possible.

The Importance of NIDCAP TO Parents & Caregivers

NIDCAP is an approach to providing highly specialized care that acknowledges the unique needs of each infant and their family to support developing relationships.

From the gentle way that premature babies are bathed to the custom quilts that adorn some of the incubators – research shows that this type of care and support positively impacts the development of the baby’s brains and improves their long-term outcomes.

NIDCAP practices lead to shorter hospital stays, better long term outcomes, and changes in brain structure and function that can be seen on MRI and EEG. When a baby is born prematurely it is important that we do everything we can not to disrupt that process through unnecessary stress and stimulation.


NIDCAP Eligibility, Certification, & Requirements

NIDCAP  Requirements for Individuals

Training to be a potential Certified NIDCAP professional is quite comprehensive with a minimum of 120-150 hours of work, and it typically takes between 12 – 18 months to complete all of the training.

NIDCAP  Requirements for Nurseries

Nurseries can be certified as a “NIDCAP Certified Nursery”. The NIDCAP Federation International (NFI) is the organization that maintains the training and standards. It is also the organization that certifies nurseries.

For a nursery to be awarded NIDCAP certification, it needs to have a Certified NIDCAP Professional on staff. The nursery must also be part of an accredited hospital with a strong developmental program integrated throughout all aspects of care. You can read more about the application and baseline requirements here.

High Level of Family-Centered Care

WakeMed is 1 of only 7  NIDCAP Training Centers in the United States (since 1989), and 1 of only 3 NIDCAP Certified Nurseries in the United States.

Currently, there are only seven NIDCAP Certified Nurseries in the world. We were the 4th to be certified.

This signifies that we have a high level of developmentally supportive, family-centered care from admission through discharge.

WakeMed Health & Hospitals are the only nurseries in North Carolina to have this approach integrated into their care. While some hospital nurseries may provide some level of developmentally supportive and family-centered care, none offer a program as comprehensive as ours.

NIDCAP: Not Like Other Nurseries

A “NIDCAP Certified Nursery” is a nursery that has been evaluated by the NFI and designated as having a high level of NIDCAP-based developmentally supportive, family-centered care integrated throughout a family’s experience from the time of admission through the time the baby is discharged.

You can take a look at the NIDCAP Nursery Assessment Manual to see all the aspects of care that are considered within 4 main categories that characterize a nursery: Environment, Care of Infant, Care of Family, and Care of Staff.  As a result, there is a different culture, and a different expectation from staff – and it translates to a different experience for babies and families.

[NIDCAP] matters as a parent. When your baby is born and things do not go as you planned because the baby is sick or premature, it’s a very helpless feeling. You feel that your place as a parent is with that baby protecting them, but their condition makes that seem hard or impossible for you to do, so you rely on others to do that for you.

NIDCAP’s relationship-based, family-centered approach helps put the parents back in control by making them an integral part of their baby’s care by encouraging their presence in the NICU anytime and encouraging skin-to-skin kangaroo care.


The Carolina NIDCAP Training Center

Originally founded by Jim Helm, the Carolina NIDCAP Training Center at WakeMed is one of seven in the United States. There are currently 23 training centers around the world.

About Dorothy Vittner

Dorothy Vittner is the current Director of the Carolina NIDCAP Training Center. She is also on the Board of Directors and is Vice President of the NIDCAP Federation International, a Senior NIDCAP trainer, and is also a Trainer in the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) trainer. Dorothy’s research interests include: bio-behavioral mechanisms of developing relationships, specifically oxytocin and the influence on nervous system functioning, infant behavior and development, as well as integrating strategies to care practices for hospitalized infants.

About James Perciaccante, MD

Dr. Perciaccante is a board-certified neonatologist and Director of Neonatology . He is also a member of the Perinatal Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the North Carolina Neonatologist Association and the North Carolina Medical Society.