Arlington – When pediatric occupational therapist Leslie DeWitt makes her daily rounds among the premature babies cared for at Medical City Arlington, her work often includes special massages for her tiny patients. Babies like “John,” born at just 27 weeks gestation, benefit from DeWitt’s skilled hands targeting tight muscles in his back, chest and neck.

Premature babies are more likely to suffer from health complications and developmental delays. Specialized care, such as neonatal therapy provided in Medical City Arlington’s Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), can boost a baby’s chance for a healthy life. For example, neonatal massage aids John in relaxing muscles that become tight and stressed from the respiratory equipment that’s been helping him breathe since he was born about two months ago. After his massage, it’s easier for the baby to relax and sleep deeply, which aids brain growth and development, explains DeWitt, who is specially trained to provide neonatal massage and other developmental therapies for premature infants.

Massage benefits that preterm infants can experience in the NICU include a shorter length of stay and reduced pain, plus improved weight gain, feeding tolerance and neurodevelopment, according to Nursing for Women’s Health journal.

DeWitt and her colleagues, including NICU nurses, work with babies to prevent disorders often seen with prematurity and to help the infants develop skills that lay the groundwork for achieving future developmental milestones. Parents also receive instruction on things like proper handling and feeding techniques.

“Our overall goal is to reduce the impacts of a premature birth and help these tiny patients develop to their full potential,” DeWitt says. “It’s extremely rewarding to help these babies grow and develop so they can go home with their parents. I love to follow families’ progress and watch my little NICU grads grow up.”

A Level III NICU designation is the second-highest level of neonatal care available and reflects Medical City Arlington’s ability to provide compassionate care and high-quality treatment for critically ill newborns. Unique therapies for NICU babies may include:

  • Infant massage
  • Feeding therapy
  • Developmental positioning for proper growth
  • Skin-to-skin contact, sometimes called kangaroo care
  • Staged sensory exposure, which assists preterm babies in adjusting to the lights, sounds and temperatures of the world outside the NICU

April is Occupational Therapy Month. Occupational therapists, like Leslie DeWitt, focus on fine and gross motor skills needed to perform specific activities of daily living and provide services also offered at the Rehabilitation Institute at Medical City Arlington.

Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and its complications are the No. 1 cause of death of babies in the United States, according to the March of Dimes. Medical City Healthcare is proud to partner with the March of Dimes to help deliver healthier tomorrows for moms, babies and families by participating in the March for Babies on May 7 in Fort Worth. Teams from Medical City Alliance, Medical City Arlington, Medical City Lewisville and Medical City Weatherford will be walking and raising funds to improve maternal and infant health.

Medical City Arlington was recently named “Best Hospital to Have a Baby” in Tarrant County by DFWChild Magazine.