According to the nurse researchers, by growing faster such pre-term infants can leave the hospital sooner and may have improved developmental outcomes. The study is published in the February 2002 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
Approximately 10 percent of all pregnancies in the United States result in pre-term births. A baby is considered pre-term if born before 37 weeks gestation. A full-term pregnancy is 37 to 40 weeks gestation.
Pre-term deliveries are costly both financially and emotionally for families, and the infants are at risk for multiple health and developmental problems. By creating an environment that may encourage growth, the Duke research suggests, these pre-term complications may be reduced.
"Additional research will be needed to show the long-term impact of a cycled light environment in these babies, but this research clearly shows that cycled light improves growth rates in pre-term babies, and that's a step in the right direction," said Debra Brandon, Ph.D., R.N., principal investigator and associate professor in the Duke School of Nursing.
Currently, many neonatal intensive care units keep babies in near darkness to simulate the mother's womb. Constant bright light has been shown to be too stressful on pre-term infants, causing irregular heart rates and decreased sleep. However, until the Duke study, no research has examined the benefits of cycled light versus near darkness.
"Cycled light establishes a day/night rhythm, mimicking the circadian rhythm cues that are established for full-term babies in the womb," said Brandon. "We know adults rely on circadian rhythms for health, growth and development, and pre-term babies
Contact: Amy Austell
Duke University Medical Center