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Interprofessional Practice Based Research

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Name: Alyson Martinez

Role:Registered dietitian

Research interests: premature babies, oral feeding, parent education

Project title: An exploration of feeding skill development in the parent-premature infant dyad in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Fun trivia: Hidden talent - making handmade pasta


January 14, 2019

Starting oral feeding might not be effortless, but it can be made easier

As adults, we don’t put a lot of thought into how we eat. We open our mouths and in it goes. We forget that eating is a learned behaviour. Babies have to learn how to eat, and this learning requires many complex processes (ex. motor control and coordination.)

For infants born prematurely, these processes can be compromised. Many premature babies start off being fed through a tube. The transition to eating by mouth can be difficult for many reasons (ex. inability to suckle.) Difficulty establishing oral feeding can lead to extra health challenges and increase the length of stay in hospital. While in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), trained nurses feed the babies. At home this responsibility falls to the parents. This can be a daunting task for many parents, even when provided with education and resource supports.

“We hope to design educational interventions and parental support programs to help facilitate safe and effective feeding practices, and in turn reduce the incidence of feeding-related comorbidities, said Alyson Martinez, a registered dietitian at St. Michael’s Hospital and principal investigator of the Interprofessional Practice Based Research Grant. Martinez and her team are trying to understand the parent perspective on feeding their infants. What anxieties do they have? What challenges do they face? How confident do they feel about translating the skills they learned in the NICU to their home?

When premature babies are being treated in the NICU, there are many different health disciplines that see to their care. Interprofessional care allows for holistic patient-centered care; according to Martinez, “every role on our team informs the others.  She notes that “feeding encompasses not just nursing, but includes the medical team and other health disciplines as well, such as dietitians, lactation consultants, and occupational therapists.” Therefore, identifying factors that promote or prevent healthy feeding practices would benefit from having an interprofessional lens.

Through her research, Alyson aims to develop resources that support parents and help them engage in effective feeding practices at home. Starting oral feeding might not be effortless, but it can be made easier.

Connecting with IPBR

The Interprofessional Practice Based Research program at St. Michael’s Hospital assists nurses and health disciplines professionals at St. Michael’s Hospital engage in the identification, implementation, and evaluation of best practices through research. Alyson Martinez is a recipient of a 2018-20 Interprofessional Practice Based Research Grant. This grant provides research funding and mentorship. 

“What I really appreciate about the IPBR program is that it gave me an entry point into research.  I had a research question in mind, but didn’t know how to surpass the challenges of getting the project started. IPBR supported me in guiding me through the research process- it allowed me to access funding to make the project possible, but also linked me with the IPBR team, who help with my study design. The team supported me in learning new skills, such as learning to use NVivo software as I am completing a qualitative study. They also helped me build capacity to present to not only IPBR program but also in a larger audience.”
-Alyson Martinez, registered dietitian



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