What is NIDCAP?

The Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) is a philosophy of care which takes an individualised, relationship-based and family-integrated approach that focuses on the baby.

NIDCAP minimizes stress and separation for babies and parents through an individually tailored environment, care and support for the baby's inherent capacity for development. NIDCAP is the gold standard for infant and family-centred, developmentally supportive neonatal care.

How has the NIDCAP philosophy developed?

The philosophy of care was developed in the 1970s and 1980s by developmental psychologist Professor Heidelise Als and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital through many years of systematic observations of hospitalized infants in intensive care units, as well as qualified research. The programme is based on more than 70 years of combined research on and experience of infant and family-centred, developmentally supportive care and has been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on the health and development of sick and premature infants (better development and structure of the brain, shorter hospital stay, better weight gain, better development at follow-up through to school age).

The baby's behaviour and needs are central

NIDCAP is based on understanding the baby's behaviour; providing individually tailored care and an environment that is adapted to the needs of the baby; the parents being the most important people for the baby both emotionally and in relation to caring for the baby; and all infants having an inherent capacity for development that can be optimized through individual assessment, adaptation and support.

Sick and premature babies communicate less clearly

A healthy full-term baby has an amazing ability to communicate its needs through its behaviour. They can to some extent protect themselves from excessive stimuli. By crying, they attract their parents' attention and fulfil their needs for comfort, food, hygiene and help falling asleep, as well as other care requirements that they need. Newborn infants need the constant close proximity and commitment of their parents in order to survive and be healthy. Babies have an inherent pre-programmed ability for constant development and refinement of their functions. By captivating their parents with a wakeful twinkling gaze, they ensure that their parents give them intimacy and closeness, smiles, play, conversation or maybe song, which they need for their development into socially competent individuals.

A sick or premature baby communicates their needs in ways that are more difficult to interpret, has a harder time processing stimuli that stimulate their development in a positive way, and has difficulty protecting themselves from stimuli that risk overloading them. The functions and senses of premature babies are not yet fully developed and they are unable to cope with the environment outside the womb, which leads to stress and altered behaviour, which can lead to impaired development and may affect the bonding process.


Therefore, in order to adapt the care and closeness that is supportive for the frail infants, careful observation of the baby's behaviour and level of development is required, as well as reflection on how the environment and care affects the baby, and in what way the care and environment can be adapted for each baby to experience comfort, well-being and a sense of security, so that they are able to develop in the best possible way based on their particular circumstances.

The parents are involved and present

The care programme is relationship-based and built on close cooperation with the baby's parents, who are considered to be the most important people in the baby's life right from the start. Parents receive guidance on how to best help their baby and receive support for their own particular situation. Babies and parents should not need to be separated, but should be allowed to stay together at the hospital throughout the baby's stay.