Question: I am an NICU therapist in a 57 bed level 4 NICU, we have a very difficult time convincing physicians of the benefit and necessity for speech therapy and OT in the NICU. Chronic babies are ordered as well as babies with a diagnosed syndrome or cleft palate etc. However babies with bleeds, long term intubation and kids with PMA of 24-28 weeks that should have a consult are sometimes overlooked. Prior to my position here I worked in home care / private practice for 17 years and saw NICU graduates with a variety of feeding and swallowing difficulties many of which stemmed from their early feeding difficulties. Is there a standard ordering protocol, an algorithm or other evidence based clinical procedural means to share with the clinical committee to convince practitioners of the value of our work and place in the unit any input would be greatly appreciated.
It is always challenging for NICUs and their nurses to see a need for our services when they have “existed” without the benefit of collaborating with rehabilitation therapists regarding feeding readiness and support for optimal feeding outcomes. Lots of dialogue and conversations are needed with NICU staff and leaders to expose them to current research and what value you add. Focusing on those infants most at risk for feeding problems, based on the evidence, is a good place to start. Take a look at these articles on co-morbidities and feeding written by well-respected neonatal researchers. They profile who are the most at risk fragile feeders and therefore guide us as well to those who will benefit from skilled intervention to support the path to PO feeding via oral-sensory-motor readiness. This includes those born at or under 28 weeks GA, at or under BW 1000 grams and with respiratory, airway and GI co-morbidities. Enjoy these articles!
Jadcherla S.R., Peng, J, et al (2012). Impact of personalized feeding program in 100 NICU infants: Pathophysiology-based approach for better outcomes. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition 54(1), 62-70.
Jadcherla, S. R., Wang, M., Vijayapal, A. S., & Leuthner, S. R. (2010). Impact of prematurity and co-morbidities on feeding milestones in neonates: a retrospective study. Journal of Perinatology, 30(3), 201-208.
Park, J., Knafl, G., Thoyre, S., & Brandon, D. (2015). Factors Associated With Feeding Progression in Extremely Preterm Infants. Nursing research, 64(3), 159-167.
Also I wrote this manuscript in 2007. In it there is a set of criteria for referrals in the NICU for feeding support. If I were to write it today, I would add to that criteria but it can be a starting point for you to consider and use in conversations. Shaker, C.S. & Woida, A.M. (2007) An evidence-based approach to nipple feeding in a level III NICU: Nurse autonomy, developmental support and teamwork. Neonatal Network, 26:2, 77-83.
Know that creating a role in your NICU is a journey not a destination. It takes many interactions, patient successes and partnering with bedside nurses to make a culture change that embraces the inclusion of therapists when it comes to feeding. And then it needs to be nurtured every day. Be thoughtful, be informed and be a colleague. Share and listen. Build relationships with nurses who become your advocate. Support families in building a relationship with their infant through feeding, and they will sing your praises to the neonatologists!
I hope this is helpful.
Catherine S. Shaker, MS/CCC-SLP, BCS-S