A NICU Nurse’s Perspective of a Hero: The MamaRoo
By: Joanne Potter
When I started my career as a NICU nurse nearly two decades ago, the experiences ranged from euphoric to tragic - and everything in between. I will never forget those moments with my families - those feelings of joy when a baby graduated after a lengthy stay to crying with parents when they received devastating news. It was an emotional roller coaster, to say the least, but I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding jobs of my life. I learned more than nursing skills. I learned true compassion and empathy. In fact, you never realize how resilient people are until you work with sick babies and their loving parents.
If you’ve ever experienced a NICU stay, I’m sure you’ve noticed how much equipment is used to support these tiny babies. But, as babies go through their hospital journey, the requirements decrease for high-tech, life-sustaining equipment. They don’t need as much “life support” in the sense of ventilators, IV fluids, medications, temperature-controlled beds, etc. These babies need “life support” in terms of being held, interacting with their surroundings, and having someone talk to them.
Eventually, babies move to a less intense level of care that enables parents to learn how to care for them. Parents learn as much as they can, and then it’s a waiting game for their baby to hit all the milestones required to be discharged from the hospital. During this waiting period, parents often have to leave the hospital at times. Some parents have other children at home. Others have to go back to work so they can spend time with the baby once the baby is able to go home. And sometimes, the parents live out of town and can only visit periodically.
While holding and cuddling babies throughout a shift is one of my favorite things to do, it’s not always possible. NICU nurses may have multiple babies to care for during their shift. It can mean feeding and caring for one baby, moving on to the next baby to give medications, take vital signs, and then of course complete the most dreaded nursing duty: charting. And those volunteer baby cuddlers you’ve read about? Thanks to COVID, they haven’t been permitted in the NICU for nearly two years. So, now more than ever NICU staff are wishing they had an extra set of hands. This is where the MamaRoo comes in.
The MamaRoo is an infant seat that bounces and sways, like parents do when comforting their babies. My unit was first introduced to the MamaRoo a few years ago when the grandma of a baby in our care brought one in for her grandson. What a game-changer! I’ll list a few of the many reasons all the nurses fell in love with this magical machine.
Ease of Use
First, you just plug it in. There is no searching for batteries, a screwdriver, or simply hoping the batteries work. It's ready to use for as long as you need it. When you’re holding a fussy baby, you want the swing to be simple to use. Place the baby in the MamaRoo and the straps are easy to find and adjust. They easily snap into place and then you can customize your settings. Choose from five motions (car ride, tree swing, rock-a-bye, kangaroo, and wave) and five speeds (one being the slowest, five being the fastest). Also, choose from four unique sounds. In a matter of seconds, you can quickly set up all these options and you’re good to go.
NICU nurses are some of the most germ conscious and hygienic people you’ll meet. We’re not scared of germs for ourselves necessarily, but for the immunocompromised babies in the unit. Babies have a weak immune system, and this is especially true in premature and sick babies. The seat cover on the MamaRoo is machine washable. One of the main benefits is the ability to wash them regularly in a baby-safe laundry detergent and then easily place the cover back on the frame to keep everything safe and sanitary for fragile infants. The hospital can also purchase disposable covers customized to fit the MamaRoo for each patient as an added protection from cross-contamination, to comply with the NICU’s high standards and infection control guidelines.
The MamaRoo is adjustable from nearly flat to upright. Some babies need to be held upright after feeding because reflux is common in premature babies. If a nurse can’t hold a baby after feeding, instead of placing them back in bed, we can securely place them in the MamaRoo in the upright position. This way we can easily keep an eye on them while tending to other duties, and they’ll be less likely to spit-up. Additionally, older babies may not fall asleep right after feeding, so they can look around and interact instead of laying in bed.
The size of the MamaRoo makes it NICU friendly, especially in a unit where you don’t have the luxury of space. For instance, the smaller size of the MamaRoo itself makes it easy to move around, place it exactly where you want, and makes it easy to store. I don’t think we ever stored ours though - they were hot commodities and always in use. The motion isn’t jerky or abrupt like some swings. Babies that are placed in the MamaRoos in the NICU are still on monitors, so they have their EKG and pulse oximeter cords connected. Some may have oxygen, IVs, and feeding tubes. The smooth motion prevents anything from pulling and instead keeps all of the lines secure.
Extra Set of Arms
The motion that a baby feels while in the MamaRoo is like that of being held in a person’s arms. This can act as an extra set of arms, not simply an extra set of hands. Some of these sweet babies would love to be held all the time, whether they have reflux, don’t feel good, are going through drug withdrawal, or they purely don’t want to be in bed anymore. Sometimes nurses still need extra help caring for NICU babies around the clock, even with the parents, nurses, support staff, and volunteers to hold babies. The MamaRoo helps not only the NICU staff, but also the parents with the knowledge that their babies have an extra set of arms when they can’t always be there.
It’s easy to see why the MamaRoo is a big hit with nurses and parents. MamaRoos are currently in more than 600 hospitals in all 50 states. The company that makes the MamaRoo, 4moms, has been a pioneer in supporting NICUs for over a decade and has donated more than 7,000 MamaRoos to hospitals and families.
Of course, there is always an ongoing need for more. In a hospital setting, it would be ideal to have a MamaRoo available for every baby who needs it. Some smaller units may have enough to go around for each baby. But the bigger units only have so many to go around. Nurses have to prioritize which baby gets to use one and when. Many factors go into determining which babies get first dibs on the available MamaRoos (drug withdrawal, fussiness, lack of parent visitation, age of baby, etc). It also wasn’t uncommon to bribe your co-worker with coffee or lunch if they would let you borrow their MamaRoo. Some parents would want one for their baby, but expressed feeling awkward in asking for one since they were in high demand.