If You See Beads in a NICU, Here’s What They Mean

Although thousands of babies of born every day across the world, 1 in 10 of these newborns will be born before their expected due date, or prematurely. Babies born at about 26 weeks have an 80% survival rate, and their chances increase the later they are born. However, despite the encouraging medical advancements that make this possible, this can be one of the most traumatic times for a newborn and their family.

To see your child on a ventilator, to see them needing tubes to survive, is one of the scariest things a parent can endure. You are constantly on high alert, always worried that sudden shift in the wind could mean something terrible for your child.

This mental stress being considered, it makes sense that over 60% of preemie parents will leave their time in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with PTSD from the experience.

Newborn preemie in the NICU.Sarah Clagett
After caring for preemies for more than 20 years, NICU nurse Jodi Dolezel knows the battle every preemie and preemie parent fights. She’s well aware of the physical, mental, and emotional roller coaster this experience can be for every NICU baby and family.

So Jodi decided to start a program to help preemie parents visually mark and celebrate the progress their child is taking in the NICU. Every time a NICU baby makes an important step, whether it is being held for the first time or hitting a development milestone, parents are given a bead to show their progress.

Premature baby with tubes.Sarah Clagett
These beads would slowly compile into a beautiful, long strand; a physical representation of their child getting closer to their goal of going home.

The Journey Bead program was created for parents to receive the support they need while their baby is in the NCU. Knowing the astounding number of parents who leaving the NICU with lingering mental duress, this support is clearly needed. The more support you receive as a parent, the better the odds that you’ll come out emotionally healthier, Dolezel says.

What milestones warrant beads for preemies? Reaching weight goals is huge, being able to take food from a bottle, and being able to be held are all huge steps that each get their own preemie bead!

Bracelet of Journey Beads.TODAY
The beads start as “caterpillar” beads and gradually develop until the babies get their “butterfly” beads. These beads represent the preemie’s journey from start to finish, with the butterfly bead representing their final homecoming.

Happily, the Journey Bead program is now spreading outside of the North Carolina hospital where Jodi started the organization. The TODAY Show covered the fantastic program and one of the nurses who picked up the idea from Jodi herself, nurse Melissa Huguette.

Having gone through the ordeal of giving birth to a premature child herself, Melissa knew that this program was exactly what struggling parents needed. Hopefully, other inspired nurses and hospital staff members will also bring this amazing program to more hospitals across the world.

What do you think of the Journey Bead program? For more information on the program, and how you can get the program instituted at your hospital, check out the organization’s website here. Share your thoughts on this incredible idea in the comments section below.