Volunteers sew hearts for moms, NICU babies to help build bonds during separation

Published: 
February 13, 2018

Enzo Henney spent the first five months of his life separated from his mother, Sara, who was only able to touch her baby's tiny hands through the holes of an incubator.

But the mother and son received a special gift that helped strengthen their bond while being physically apart: pint-sized hearts.

Sewn by volunteers, sets of hearts are donated to mothers of babies being treated at Florida Hospital for Children's neonatal intensive care unit. One heart is worn by the mom and the other by the baby for 24 hours to ensure their scent is embedded in the material. After that, the hearts are swapped, allowing the mom and baby to sense a part of each other despite physical separation.

"I've used the hearts for over five months," Henney said. "It helps knowing that even when I leave, he still senses me. Anything to stay connected helps; it gives me piece of mind."

Every year, 380,000 babies in the United States come to the world weeks earlier than anticipated, which means their bodies are not ready for all the stimulation that's waiting for them in the world, according to March of Dimes.

Beth Suffer, one of the volunteer sewers, estimates they've donated 1,000 "hearts of love" to Florida Hospital for Children. The initiative began with at the pediatric cardiac unit to comfort babies going to surgery, but given the medical benefits, the hearts were taken to the NICU to help families cope with separation.

"Moms will smell the scent on the hearts as they are lactating and it has shown to help with milk production and bonding," said Summer Bernath, child life specialist at the NICU.

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