A mother’s perspective on pediatric therapy

I was blessed to give birth to two healthy, full-term babies.

Before my first child was born, my mother told me, “Don’t worry, the instructions come with them.” I was never quite sure what she meant by that. If she meant that I would feel an instant, indescribable bond with my baby, a desire to love and protect her always — she was right. If she meant that I would be a calm, confident mother who always knew what to do — let’s just say that I never found those instructions.

Like most new mothers, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated a lot of the time. What do you do for a baby who cries constantly one out of every four days, and about whom the doctor says “intermittent colic — she’ll grow out of it by four months or so.”

Four months? I should live so long, I thought.

Yes, I can see you moms out there smiling. We’ve all been there and know that even in normal circumstances, motherhood has a steep learning curve. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for parents of babies born prematurely, or who have critical health issues that require months in a neonatal intensive care unit, operations and years of treatments and therapy afterward.

“Shell-shocked,” is how Martha Herbers-Sanger, BS, MOT-R/L, describes the parents of babies she treats in her job as a neonatal occupational therapist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Mothers don’t give birth at Egleston; they go there when their child needs the life-saving services and skills of a Level III neonatal intensive care unit. These parents, some of whom have traveled from miles away, might not even have gotten to hold their babies immediately after birth.

They are met by compassionate doctors and nurses who have the latest technology and knowledge to treat the tiniest, most fragile patients. Many parents are surprised when the team includes neonatal occupational, physical or speech-language therapists. Their goal is to help parents connect to their infants despite the unnatural and stressful environment.

In this month’s issue of Pulse, we take an inside look at therapists who work in the complex and challenging world of pediatric and neonatal therapy.

In therapy terms, their role is “to maximize developmental outcomes and support infant/parent relationships that contribute to the infant’s success in life as a unique individual,” according to an article co-written by Sandra Carroll, OTR/L, CIMI, and Chrysty Sturdivant, OTR/L. Their firm Neonatal Therapy Solutions provides education and consulting services to NICU professionals.

Neonatal therapy has been around for about 30 years, and demand for the specialty is growing as more premature and medically fragile babies are being saved, and a growing body of research has shown its effectiveness in improving outcomes.

Pediatric therapists also have expanding roles since babies often need assistance long after hospital stays, and because accidents and illnesses can happen at any age. Autism and traumatic brain injuries are just two areas where pediatric therapists can make a difference in a child’s life.

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