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About Sickkids
About SickKids

June 27, 2014

Hospitalized babies achieve developmental “firsts” through SickKids Beanstalk Program

TORONTO – The first few months of a new baby’s life are usually filled with “firsts”: first smile, first time rolling over, first time sitting up, first words, first steps. But when those months are spent in hospital with the baby battling serious health problems, achieving the firsts that most families take for granted is no longer guaranteed. Tummy time may not be possible as the baby is lying on its back in a crib with dozens of tubes providing medication and nutrition. New, carefully chosen outfits may remain hanging in a closet, as dressing baby in more than a diaper and loose-fitting gown might be too big a hurdle for parents. Even holding their critically ill newborn is a rare occurrence for some families.


In paediatric hospitals, where the focus is on meeting baby’s complex medical needs, developmental and physical milestones are often overshadowed by these more critical issues. At The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), the Beanstalk Program aims to address the developmental needs of its youngest patients by offering tailored developmentally focused care, as well as specialized toys and equipment to help hospitalized babies catch up to their peers and reach coveted firsts.

“Babies who are hospitalized for several weeks or months are often behind their peers in learning important developmental skills, like sitting on their own,” says Stephanie So, physiotherapist and one of the creators of the Beanstalk Program at SickKids. “Sitting in a stroller or reaching for a toy would be everyday experiences for babies at home, so we encourage families to expose their babies to these types of activities as much as they can while in hospital.”

This multidisciplinary program includes physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, child life specialists, speech-language pathologists and social workers who work with clinical staff on several units of the hospital to incorporate developmentally focused practices into clinical care. They are also there to work with families to ensure that visits become an opportunity to engage in specialized activities and provide the stimulation babies and toddlers need in order to thrive.

Aurora Blomerus has spent her entire first year in hospitals, beginning in South Africa, where she was born. She has been at SickKids since November, and is expected to be discharged in time for her first birthday next week. Born with her intestines outside her body, Aurora is undergoing intestinal rehabilitation while she awaits a bowel transplant. While much of her young life has been centred around complicated therapies and surgeries, with most of her time spent lying in her crib, she has also had the opportunity to work on reaching specific goals, like improving the range of motion in her neck, sitting, reaching for toys, standing with assistance and learning to vocalize.

In addition to coaching Aurora’s parents in how to engage Aurora in her personalized program, staff members created a poster featuring photos of Aurora practicing each exercise. The poster hangs in her room, providing extra cues to staff, parents and visitors that these are the current areas of focus in her development.

“When we arrived from South Africa, Aurora was behind developmentally,” says Aurora’s mom, Nicole. “She spent her first few months lying in her crib in South Africa. The Beanstalk Program has allowed her to achieve things like a normal baby. The exercises helped her progress; as she got proficient at one thing, we moved onto the next.”

Launched in 2002, the Beanstalk Program at SickKids enhances the developmental experiences of children aged zero to three who are hospitalized for more than three weeks. Other Canadian hospitals have modelled their own programs after this one. The team has worked to integrate developmentally-focused care into everyday practice on several units around the hospital, highlighting the importance of early-childhood development during prolonged hospitalization.

“We want to avoid having “Beanstalk Time” scheduled for a specified periods during the day,” says So. “It’s crucial that the clinical team, parents and other caregivers all work together and use every available opportunity to help our babies achieve their milestones. This has become the culture of care on many of the units that have established the Beanstalk Program. Developmentally focused care in hospital makes a big difference in easing the transition when the babies are finally discharged home.”

A recent study conducted by the Beanstalk Program found that families value the focus on developmental experiences during their child’s hospitalization. Encouraging their participation in exercises helped parents gain confidence and empowerment in establishing their parental role, despite the impact of complex medical issues.

About The Hospital for Sick Children

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.


For more information, please contact:

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 202059

Caitlin McNamee-Lamb
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 201436