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In the NICU

Return to Pediatrics home

Dr. Ethel Ying
Dr. Ethel Ying, Active Primary General Pediatrics, Neonatology

Family integrated care

The care in our NICU is based on the model of family integrated care, the philosophy that parents and caregivers are an essential and integral part of their baby’s health care team. Family integrated care encourages parents to take an active part in their baby’s care and to participate in daily medical rounds.

Every step of the way, parents are provided with education and support to help them understand and meet their baby’s unique needs. This takes place in a variety of ways such as teaching by nursing staff at the bedside and through weekly groups and classes offered for families, such as CPR training.

Family Support Program

Parents may be unable to visit the NICU for a variety of reasons such as illness, lack of child care for siblings at home, transportation barriers or parental need for self-care. The NICU Family Support Program is a volunteer service to help ensure that all NICU babies receive the best care possible while their parents are away from the bedside.

In addition to holding and comforting babies in the NICU, family support volunteers can provide a listening ear to parents and an orientation to the services available in the hospital. If they are not busy with other babies in the unit, volunteers can also help parents by entertaining siblings at the bedside with toys, books, games and puzzles.

How does the Family Support Program work?

Volunteers are in the NICU seven days a week, with one volunteer coming in during the morning and one in the afternoon. If more than one baby would benefit from being cuddled at a time the nursing team leader will determine priority. The Family Support Program is a standard of care in the NICU so parents do not need to consent to their baby participating; however, they may opt out of the program if they wish.

All of our volunteers follow strict infection control practices, have successfully completed a Vulnerable Sector Screen police check and have been trained in safe infant-handling practices.

How can other NICUs start a volunteer cuddling program?

St. Michael’s has seen first-hand the benefit that the Family Support Program has had on infants in the NICU, their families, and on staff in the unit. We strongly encourage all NICUs across the country to consider implementing volunteer cuddling programs in their unit. We are happy to share our program materials with other hospitals; for more information please contact our program coordinator. You can also download our Family Support Program manual.

Books for babies

Books for BabiesWe are wholly committed to giving babies the best start in life. Research has shown that reading to babies helps foster brain development and that babies who are exposed to language early in their life have greater levels of literacy as they are growing up. Reading to babies also helps their social and emotional development as they hear the use of different emotions and expressive sounds.

The Family Support Program at St. Michael’s Hospital provides books to babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to be read to them while they are in the hospital and to take home as a memento of their hospital stay.

The Books for Babies program relies solely on the generosity of donations from the community. If you would like to support this program you can either make a donation or contact the NICU at 416-864-5232 to arrange a drop-off of new or ‘like’ new books that are in good condition.

Cozy cloths

Volunteer Jannie Henkelman, the co-ordinator of the Cozy Cloth Program, tends to a premature infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Photo by Katie Cooper, Medical Media Centre)
Cozy cloths are hand-sewn pieces of cotton fabric made by a dedicated group of volunteers. Two cloths are provided to each family so that babies are exposed to their parent’s scent when their parent is not in the unit. Parents are encouraged to wear the cozy cloth beneath their shirt, allowing the cloth to absorb their scent. The cozy cloth is then placed next to their baby so that their scent can provide a source of comfort when they are not in the room.

Studies have shown that introducing a parent’s scent to an infant facilitates bonding and also encourages feeding of premature infants when they are exposed to the scent of breast milk. Cozy cloths provide peace of mind to parents who know that their baby can still sense them, even when they are not physically there.

Tuck Shop

Baby Tuck ShopThe Baby Tuck Shop provides free essential maternity and baby items to families receiving obstetric care at St. Michael’s Hospital. Individuals can visit the shop twice during pregnancy. Once for a maternity visit any time after 20 weeks gestation and once for a baby visit any time after 36 weeks gestation. Item are subject to availability.

Virtual Tour of the St. Michael’s Hospital NICU

Virtual tour of the NICU

Take a 360 degree tour of the NICU with Dr. Campbell.

NICU parent portal

The following resources have been compiled as topics of interest most commonly identified by NICU parents. If you are looking for more information or other resources please speak to a NICU staff member.

General NICU resources

Welcome to the Club - The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation has created a PDF booklet for first-time NICU parents.

March of Dimes is an American based organization that has a number of resources and fact sheets for NICU parents to download.

Canadian Preemie Support Network is a closed, private group on Facebook with the aim of providing peer support to NICU parents. The group is moderated by the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation.

Support 4 NICU Parents is a web-based comprehensive resource for NICU family support.

Life with a Preterm Baby is a collaborative network between Mount Sinai and Sunnybrook Hospitals. The program serves as a support network following discharge as families’ transition from the NICU to their first months at home.

Multiple Births Canada has created this fact sheet on kangaroo care for preterm infants.

Financial support

Family caregiver benefit for children is an employment insurance benefit that some parents may be eligible for during their baby’s NICU stay.

Milestone certificates

The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation has created a series of printable certificates that parents can download to celebrate milestones (such as first feed, first bath, etc.) in the NICU.

Mental health

Mother Matters is an online support group run by Women’s College Hospital for mothers who are experiencing mood changes after the birth of a baby.

Fathers Mental Health provides mental health assessment and treatment services through Mount Sinai Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre for expecting, new, and fathers with young children. The website also has a number of parenting resources geared towards fathers.

Toronto Public Health offers free services for women experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy or after giving birth.

Women’s College Hospital’s Reproductive Life Stages (RLS) Program provides assessment and support to women experiencing new or recurrent mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, during pregnancy or in the postpartum period.

Preparing for discharge home

The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation has created a tip sheet and downloadable letter to share with family and friends before your baby comes home.

Parenting resources at home

Healthy Babies Healthy Children (HBHC) is a free home-visiting program that supports you and your family with promoting your child’s growth and development and connecting you to resources and programs within your community.

EarlyON Child and Family Centres are free drop-in centres for children 0-6 and their caregivers. They offer a range of services such as groups and interactive activities and advice from professionals trained in early childhood development.


Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network offers volunteer peer-support on a one-to-one basis; through groups; over the phone; and online. They also host several remembrance events throughout the year.

Bereaved Families of Toronto offers support to grieving families through both open and closed groups. 


The following videos have been compiled as topics of interest most commonly identified by NICU parents. If you are looking for more information or other resources please speak to a NICU staff member.

As preemies grow: from preterm birth to preschool & beyond (Isis Parenting)

The building blocks of movement (Life with a Preterm Baby)

Childproofing and home safety (Isis Parenting)

Common winter illness (Life with a Preterm Baby)

Getting the groove back: postpartum sexual health (Isis Parenting)

Perinatal and postpartum mood disorders (Niagara Region)

The science of skin to skin and kangaroo care (Isis Parenting)

Shaping your baby’s brain: brain development and stress regulation in early childhood (Isis Parenting)

Sleep strategies for NICU babies and families (Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres)

Starting solids: what NICU parents need to know (Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres)