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Robotic swing helps nurture NICU babies

HOUSTON – Many studies reveal that a mother's touch helps a baby in neonatal intensive care unit to heal, but when babies stay there for six months to a year and mom isn't around to hold them, a few local hospitals have turned to a robotic swing for help.

The "mamaRoo" is a robotic device that, unlike other bouncy tools and swings, can mimic a mom's touch, and that's what helps NICU patients develop into babies strong enough to go home.

The NICU is not a soothing environment, with lots of people, lights and constant noises. It's too stimulating for an infant.

"So that's another positive: It drowns out all this sound to the beeping and stuff like that that's going on in this environment," Alyssa Luksa, manager of child life and expressive therapies at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, said.

The mamaRoo is used to soothe a cradled baby with sounds of a heartbeat and a gentle sway a couple of times a day, for about 20 minutes..

"It helps with that vestibular movement, which is that side-to-side movement that we see a lot of parents do, and so this just mimics that," Vikki Pennington, a child life specialist at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, said.

And it's needed.

KPRC Channel 2 News visited the NICU in the middle of a workday. Mommies and daddies are at work while their precious preemies are working hard to grow, and thanks to the technology, the babies can feel their parent's comfort when nobody is there.

"You just kind of watch and see how they adjust to it, and if they like it they're going to show you by their facial expression, and their monitor readings here in the NICU are going to express to you how they're feeling and if they're comforted by it," Pennington said.

That helps babies get the rest they need to heal and develop.

"The first year of life is when all of the neurons and stuff are making their connections and so it's important that we help them have those opportunities," Luksa said. "So getting them in these different devices, position devices is what we call them, allows them to have those opportunities for brain development."

4moms, the consumer technology company that makes  the mamaRoo, offers hospital discounts. 4moms Cares has helped more than 300 hospitals in the U.S. by providing donated or discounted mamaRoos to their NICUs.

Click here to learn more about the program or to make donation requests.

The company also sells mamaRoos individually here.