The University of Chicago (UChicago) Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital in the US has officially launched its Small Baby Unit located at its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

This specialised unit is designed to treat babies born at 30 weeks or earlier or weighing less than 1.25kg.

It is the first facility of its kind on Chicago’s South Side.

The 16-bed Small Baby Unit has a multidisciplinary care team, including nurses, physicians, therapists, dietitians and Child Life specialists, who are trained to address the medical needs of premature infants.

Opened in September, the unit allows parents to participate in rounds with the care team, learning about their babies’ care and advocating for their babies’ care.

UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit clinical director Brandi Parker said: “We’re always looking for ways to support parents and increase their presence at the bedside.

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“In a lot of situations with small babies, you’re not able to just go and pick them up.

“You need to find alternative methods for bonding, which can be anything from reading to them to placing a cloth with a parent’s scent on it underneath their heads.”

The unit incorporates developmentally appropriate sleeping arrangements, mimicking conditions in the uterus for optimal neurodevelopment.

Despite being consistently occupied, babies are usually moved to the larger NICU at what would have been between 30 and 32 weeks of pregnancy.

UChicago medicine assistant professor of paediatrics Kelly Nelson Kelly said: “We’re very focused on making this a family-centred initiative.

“We want to provide continuing education and use evidence-based medicine to do things like help parents increase breastmilk production and become more engaged in their babies’ care.”

Nelson Kelly and Parker said the hospital aims to build on its current practices in the coming years, with the unit’s first two months having been successful.