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Women & Infants Participating in National Study on Caring for Late Preterm Infants

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island is one of 15 sites selected from a field of 145 applicants across the US and Canada to participate in a research study looking to see if providing some additional, specialized nursing and parental care may help late preterm infants fare better as they go home and grow.

Providence, RI, March 12, 2010 --( When someone thinks about a premature baby, they often conjure an image of a tiny infant in an incubator in a neonatal intensive care unit. But both nationally and in Rhode Island, the largest population of preterm infants are those who are considered “late preterm,” born 34 to 36 completed weeks of gestation. Generally, these babies are cared for in a normal newborn nursery alongside full-term newborns.

Now a new research study is looking to see if providing some additional, specialized nursing and parental care may help these babies fare better as they go home and grow. Women & Infants Hospital is one of 15 sites selected from a field of 145 applicants across the US and Canada to participate in the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) Late Preterm Infant Research-Based Practice Study.

“If someone looks at a full-term infant and a late preterm infant, they probably won’t see a difference. But these babies are not the same when it comes to brain growth and development,” said Jean Salera-Vieira, RNC-OB, MS, nurse manager of a Mother/Baby Unit at Women & Infants Hospital and the local principal investigator for the study. “The ability to suck, swallow and breathe develops in the third trimester, so babies born at 34 to 36 weeks gestation often tire easily, resulting in significant breastfeeding challenges, among other issues.”

The AWHONN Late Preterm Infant Initiative is a multi-year endeavor addressing the special needs of infants born between 34 and 36 completed weeks of gestation. Goals include increasing health care provider and consumer awareness of the risks and ensuring evidence-based educational resources for health care providers to conduct appropriate assessment and care for these vulnerable infants.

“This six-month phase of the study really focuses on our nurses and how they care for late preterm infants,” explained Salera-Vieira. “For instance, rather than bringing a late preterm infant to the newborn nursery to spend some time being monitored in a warmer, we are instead encouraging prolonged ‘skin to skin’ contact with the mother.” Other areas that are being carefully watched include:

Feeding – Late preterm infants tend to feed slower and may not be able to take in as much milk at each feeding, so they may need to be fed more often than full-term babies.
Sleeping – Late preterm infants may be sleepier than most full-term infants.
Breathing – Late preterm infants may be at greater risk for respiratory distress.
Temperature – Late preterm infants, like all premature babies, have less body fat and may be less able to regulate their own body temperature.
Jaundice and infections – Late preterm infants may be more likely to develop jaundice, a symptom of hyperbilirubinemia that can lead to severe nervous system damage if elevated levels are not identified and treated early. Because late preterm infants have immature immune systems, they may be more likely to develop infections.

This six-month study will continue enrolling babies through September 2010. AWHONN expects to have results of the study available in 2011.

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. The primary teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, Women & Infants is the seventh largest obstetrical service in the country with more than 9,000 deliveries per year. In 2009, Women & Infants opened the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Center of Excellence from the American College of Radiography; a Center for In Vitro Maturation Excellence by SAGE In Vitro Fertilization; and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group. The hospital was named Rhode Island’s Best Place to Work by Providence Business News and a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health by the federal government. For information about Women & Infants, log on to, and for the name of a physician on the Women & Infants’ staff, call the Health Line at 1-800-921-9299.

The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) is the foremost nursing authority that advances the health care of women and newborns through advocacy, research and the creation of high quality, evidence-based standards of care. AWHONN's 23,000 members worldwide are clinicians, educators and executives who serve as patient care advocates focusing on the needs of women and infants. A leader in professional development, AWHONN holds the distinction of twice receiving the Premier Program award by the American Nurses Credentialing Center for innovation and excellence in Continuing Nursing Education. Founded in 1969 as the Nurses Association of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the association became a separate nonprofit organization called the Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses in 1993.

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Women & Infants Hospital
Amy Blustein

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