INTERVIEWED BY EMILY FREEHLING

Mary Washington Hospital NICU patient

Among life’s milestones, it’s hard to top the day you bring a baby into the world. At Mary Washington Hospital, helping families have safe, healthy birth experiences means being ready for newborns who arrive in need of critical care.

As the only hospital in the Fredericksburg region with a Level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Mary Washington Hospital is prepared to treat infants who need extra help as they begin their life outside their mother’s womb.

Special care for the youngest and tiniest

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 10 percent of American babies are born pre-term, and 8.3 percent are born at low birthweight. These are two major reasons children may need care from a NICU.

As a Level III NICU, Mary Washington Hospital can care for premature infants as small as one pound.

“We have babies born as young as 23 weeks,” said Mary Washington Hospital NICU Nurse Manager, Nancy Young. “We also care for babies born at term and beyond 40 weeks that are having difficulty transitioning and complications with breathing such as respiratory distress syndrome and infection.”

Children’s National Neonatologists and Neonatal Nurse Practitioners staff the NICU

The Mary Washington Hospital NICU is powered by a highly trained, specialized staff. Nurses in this special care unit have received advanced training and most are certified in high-risk neonatal intensive care nursing.

The advanced training focuses on every detail of caring for our tiniest babies. For example, if a NICU baby needs a special intravenous (IV) catheter for prolonged delivery of medications and nutrition, the specially trained NICU nurse will place the IV in the least invasive, least painful manner. The NICU babies are also supported by specialists in respiratory, physical, and speech therapy, pharmacy, nutrition, and case management to meet each baby’s unique needs.

Joshua Attridge, MD, Medical Director, Mary Washington Hospital NICU

In addition, the Mary Washington Hospital NICU has a 24/7 partnership with Children’s National Hospital that brings world-class neonatal expertise to newborns in the region without having to leave Fredericksburg.

“Children’s National is the No. 1 leading neonatology care program in the United States,” Young said. “Our physician leaders and our nurse practitioners are part of the Children’s National practice.”

This means babies who need an even higher level of care have immediate access to consultation and transport if needed to the Level IV Children’s National Hospital NICU, one of the best children’s hospitals in the country.

“When we have a baby born with an unknown anomaly that requires surgery, we can get an immediate referral and initiate transport if needed. There is no delay in obtaining consults,” Young said. “All of those experts are part of our team. When we do an echocardiogram here, it is read by the Children’s National radiologists. It is an active, thriving partnership.”

Children’s National has the ability to arrange air transport for babies who need to access a higher level of care at their facility in Washington, D.C.

For babies in need of a higher level of care within the Fredericksburg region, Mary Washington Hospital has a dedicated Neonatal Transport Team, and can go to area hospitals that do not have Level III NICU services. “We have a team of 5-6 people involved in the planning to get one baby,” Young said. The Neonatal Transport Team will bring these babies to Mary Washington Hospital, where they can receive advanced care.

“Our goal is to keep our families in our community,” Young said. “Our families are from Fredericksburg. Their support systems are here. It really is very challenging and becomes a real hardship for our families when they are separated from their babies, especially moms who want to breastfeed and need to bond with their baby when they have that commute to either Richmond or Washington, D.C.”

Mary Washington Hospital Neonatal Transport Team

Parents are an important part of care

Young points out that infants in the NICU benefit tremendously from loving contact with their parents, so the hospital has found ways to make this easier.

“These babies are not supposed to be out of the womb yet. They are supposed to be with their mothers. So we promote bonding as much as we can,” she said. “As soon as the babies are stable enough, we promote skin-to-skin contact with moms and dads. The research shows that babies held by their mothers breathe better and have improved vital signs.”

Mary Washington Hospital’s Family Birth Place has a goal of promoting breastfeeding for newborns. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to help mothers produce breastmilk. The hospital has established practices in its NICU to try to make it easier for moms to breastfeed.

These include having specialized lactation consultants available until 9 p.m. most nights and on weekends, having pumps available for use in the NICU so that moms don’t have to bring them from home and having a plan for even the smallest babies who can’t take the breast yet to be introduced to mother’s milk.

“Our plan of care includes early introduction of mother’s milk,” Young said. “It’s called priming the gut—getting that baby ready to feed and receive the benefits of mother’s breastmilk.” The NICU also participates in options to provide pasteurized human donor milk to premature infants.

Visiting hours are only restricted twice a day, for one hour at nursing shift changes at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The Rucker Family

Building a healthier community

A NICU stay can last anywhere from one day to several months. Many families’ relationship with the NICU staff begins long before delivery. The hospital works closely with area maternal fetal medicine and obstetricians to anticipate and plan for the needs of high-risk babies before they are born.

During this time, nurses and parents get to know each other, as they work together toward the goal of healthy infants.

But the relationship doesn’t stop at discharge.

“We become family,” Young said. “Our graduates, as we call them, will come back and share milestones, they will show up at our NICU door and we will have mini-reunions in the hallway.”

An annual Mary Washington Hospital sponsored reunion welcomes NICU graduates and their families to gather and celebrate milestones. In 2019, more than 200 people attended, with some graduates well into their teenage years.

“Our nurses love these reunions. When our patients are discharged, we continue to think about them and even see them in the community,” Young said. “It’s a way of looking at Fredericksburg and the surrounding region as a true community that cares.”

Neonatal Care at Mary Washington Hospital

Advanced care for babies born with serious medical needs is here for you at Mary Washington Hospital. Our 17-bed Level III NICU provides:

  • Care for newborn infants as small as one pound.
  • A 24/7 staff of board-certified neonatologists from Children’s National Hospital.
  • A specialized team that includes neonatal nurse practitioners, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, physical, speech and occupational therapists, case managers, dietitians and lactation consultants.
  • A neonatal transport team that provides ground ambulance transport for newborn infants to 28 days old infants needing intensive care, which provides a local care option for babies born at hospitals without a Level III NICU.

Learn more about the Mary Washington Hospital Family Birth Place and its Level III NICU at MyBaby.mwhc.com. Stay tuned to the Fred Parent Facebook Page and YouTube channel for a video interview with staff from the Mary Washington Hospital NICU during the month of March.