Caring for preterm babies in single family rooms – expert comment

A new study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health has found that caring for preterm babies in single family rooms appears to reduce the incidence of sepsis and improve exclusive breastfeeding rates compared with traditional open ward neonatal units.

The systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted by OLVG (a teaching hospital in Amsterdam). The findings support the growing trend towards building more single family rooms in neonatal units, although preterm babies (<28 weeks gestation) in intensive care looked after in single family rooms do not appear to have better neurodevelopmental outcomes at 18–24 months of corrected age (for prematurity) compared with those cared for communally in open bay units.

What can we learn from the study and how significant are the findings? Cally Tann, Associate Professor in Child Development at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Consultant Neonatologist at UCLH, said:

“This welcome paper provides more important evidence on the role of single family rooms in the care of preterm infants and their carers. Prevention of infection and promotion of breast feeding are key factors in supporting this vulnerable patient group to thrive. Whilst the economic implications would need careful consideration within current NHS neonatal service provision, the findings offer evidence of the extended benefits of a more family-integrated approach to care for newborns and their carers.

“The additional benefits of single family rooms on other important family outcomes like parental stress and bonding also warrant further research to understand the full impact on newborns and their families.”