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Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor

Special Care Unit Dresses Preemies for a Luau to Lift Parents’ Spirits

“Parents’ expectation is to bring their babies home with them, but now they’re here…This gives them something to smile about.”
PUBLISHED ON 08/16/2018

For expectant parents, the nine-month build-up to the moment baby finally arrives is a long, emotional wait. And once baby is finally here, moms and dads can’t wait to get home and settle in as a family—but parents of premature babies often can’t do that right away.

Having a preemie who requires a longer hospital stay can be scary and stressful. Which is why the special care unit at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, Illinois is on a mission to bring smiles to parents’ faces. Most recently, they threw a preemie luau party, complete with adorable outfits and a photographer to document it all.

Parents Elizabeth Alberts and Alex Maldonado shared their experience with TODAY after their son Andrew was quickly taken to the hospital’s special care unit moments after he was born. Andrew struggled to suck and swallow on his own, and the hospital needed to monitor his breathing. “It was a little overwhelming because he was in an incubator. He had a feeding tube in his nose,” Alberts said. “I was a little sad that I couldn’t take him home but knew this is what he needed to get stronger.”

To help give Alberts and Maldonado and the other new parents a break from the stress, the special care ward dressed the babies in bathing suits for a day of fun at the beach. And based on the adorable pictures, it worked.

“He looked pretty cute. The bathing suit was a little big,” Alberts tells TODAY. “But he might not get to wear it for a while.”

The parents received professional photos of their baby all decked out to help them create unique memories that they would otherwise be making if their babies were home. And it’s not just for the parents’ sakes, but for the babies’ sakes as well. The truth is, these bonding experiences often help sick babies recover faster.

“Their long-term improvement increases greatly,” Carol Castelino, MD, a neonatologist at SwedishAmerican said. “We want to give them a sense of normalcy. Their expectation is to bring their babies home with them, but now they are here…This gives them something to smile about.”

It gives us plenty to smile about too.