Miracle Monday: Innovative Sacred Heart program soothes babies exposed to drugs

Sacred Heart Nicu Nurse

SPOKANE, Wash.– Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital found success in a program that’s helped shorten hospital stays and soothe babies who have been exposed to drugs.

Perinatal Professional Development Specialist Jaime Clark said the program is called “Eat, Sleep, Console.” It’s based off new research that increasing family involvement in the treatment of an infant can have profound health impacts for a sick baby.

“This is a whole new way of looking at things,” Clark said.

This program is helpful for babies who have been exposed to opioids or illicit drugs while they were developing, according to Clark. She said there is a misconception that these little ones are born addicted. Clark said that’s not the case, but they do experience some withdrawal symptoms when they’re born.

That’s where the idea for eat, sleep and console comes into place. Instead of only treating those symptoms with medication, parents or volunteers will simply hold the babies. Jeanne Gerke is one of the so-called NICU Nurses that volunteers to do that. The retired nurse volunteers her time to help these babies when their parents can’t be with them. Most babies will stay days, even weeks and parents can’t always be there all day and night. That’s when volunteers like Gerke step in to hold the baby.

“As a nanny I hold the babies that are having problems settling down,” Gerke said.

Clark said babies can experience a variety of discomforts if they’ve been exposed to drugs.

“Sometimes they’re just jittery and shaky. They startle really easily,” Clark said.

Years ago, doctors would have prescribed only medicine to treat that. Now, there is another option they’ll try. Clark said they’ve already seen better outcomes with babies that are being held more. She explained that the length of stay has dropped by several days in most cases.

It’s not a bad gig for Gerke either.

“They just like to lay on you and if they’re really having a hard time, I’ll hum like a heartbeat and they’ll fall asleep,” Gerke said.

Clark said another benefit to this program is that it keeps families together. She explained that that’s usually the best option considering the trauma a child will go through once it has been removed from its parents.

“We have so many families where this is the critical moment in their life that actually leads them to recovery,” Clark said.

Volunteers are important to those families, too. Gerke said oftentimes she’ll ease new parent’s fears and answer questions about how to hold a baby. Gerke explained that she’s always hoping for the best for the little ones she meets.

“I want to see them healthy and happy and eating well and doing all the things little babies are supposed to do,” Gerke said.

There is a waiting list to volunteer for this program, but there are other ways to get involved with Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. Learn more here.

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