Premature babies vulnerable
“Premature babies, with their growing brains, are especially sensitive to loud noises. In spite of this, neonatal units often generate a great deal of loud noise from equipment, alarms, and adult voices. And incubator vibrates like a drum, reinforcing sounds from outside,” explains Dr. Johannes Van den Berg, a neonatal nursing specialist.
Neonatal units are noisy places – and all that noise goes straight into the sensitive ears of the tiny premature babies. It causes changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and the infants sleep less soundly and forget to breathe, which affects oxygenation. In their delicate state, this can lead to serious consequences such as cerebral haemorrhaging.
Studies have shown that average noise levels in neonatal units are far higher than the 45-decibel limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For premature babies who have been in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the risk of permanent hearing impairment is several times higher than for other children. The Neonatal ICU at Umeå University Hospital took this fact into account when it underwent renovations in 2010. The new unit is spacious, hygienic, and more sound-friendly for premature babies.
We are finding that the noise levels in our unit have fallen dramatically
The new unit
which measures 86 square metres, each infant and its family are accommodated in a screened-off area. The ceiling is a sound-absorbent acoustic ceiling. Pieces of equipment that tend to produce false alarms have been removed, and the rest of the equipment is placed as far away from the child’s ears as possible. “We are finding that the noise levels have fallen dramatically, and as a result, the staff are now less stressed,”
Administrative offices and overnight accommodation are located as far away from the unit as possible.Outpatients and others no longer need to walk past the neonatal unit.The unit has also reviewed its procedures, combining care and examination of infants to minimize the impact and give the child more rest.
“We are finding that the noise levels in our unit have fallen dramatically, and as a result the staff are now less stressed,” says Johannes Van den Berg.
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