Summer 2003
A History of Newborn Care

Quadruplets Orlando, Amelia, Wilhemina and Elizabeth Stickles, born in 1986.

On August 28, 1896, quadruplets Orlando, Amelia, Wilhelmina, and Elizabeth Stickles were born at home in Stratford. They were probably premature—born too soon. And not just one or two months too soon. Sadly, they were born more than three-quarters of a century too soon. The life-saving Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Bridgeport Hospital lay 77 years in the future.

The Stickles quadruplets were brought to Bridgeport Hospital at two weeks of age because they were not doing well. "Inanition" was the diagnosis—exhaustion from lack of food and water. The babies were too weak to eat. Unfortunately, there was little that could be done. They could be loved—the Bridgeport Hospital nurse who cared for them kept their photograph for many years—but they could not be saved. Over the next three months, all four died.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, having a baby was one of the most dangerous things a woman could do. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth were among the leading causes of death for women. (Other common causes: infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera; heart disease; stroke.) Many changes in the past century have made childbirth easier and safer for mothers and babies—especially multiple births.

Here are some of the steps that led to Bridgeport Hospital becoming a leader in healthcare for mothers and children:

Bridgeport Hospital's First Births

In 1884, Bridgeport Hospital's first year of operation, no babies were born in the hospital. This was not surprising—in those days, babies were routinely born at home, and mothers were cared for by their families. In 1885, only three births were recorded in the hospital. It's likely that these births were complicated, since the three mothers' stays lasted as long as six weeks, and one of the three babies did not survive. The cost for delivery and hospital stay for these women: $2.50 each.

By 1900 many more women were choosing to have their babies in the safety of the hospital, with anesthesia (ether or chloroform) to reduce the pain. In 1912, Bridgeport Hospital established its first separate Maternity Ward.

(An interesting side note: the first line of maternity clothes was designed in 1904 by Lena Bryant, who started the Lane Bryant stores. Before that time, mothers-to-be simply loosened their corset strings—and they didn't often venture out in public!)

By 1920, women had the vote, and using a bottle was the modern way to feed a baby.

In 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady, and half of all women were choosing to give birth in hospitals. By the 1960s, when Jackie Kennedy was First Lady, that number was up to 95%.

The Premature Unit

In 1942, the Woman's Staff for Children's Ward, a group of community-minded citizens, purchased two incubators—one for the Children's Ward, and one for the Marsh Maternity Premature Unit. Sixty years ago, Bridgeport Hospital was already caring for the tiniest of patients.

Innovations in neonatal (newborn) care were being made, and Bridgeport Hospital was on the leading edge. By 1948, the hospital was equipped to give transfusions to newborns with an Rh factor in their blood that was incompatible with their mothers' blood—a condition that was previously fatal. And a premature baby girl who weighed two pounds at birth was placed in an incubator for a month, and sent home weighing five pounds.

Nancy Athenasiou of Shelton with Amanda at three pounds.

The Newborn Intensive Care Unit—An Anniversary Within Our Anniversary
If Orlando, Amelia, Wilhelmina, and Elizabeth Stickles had been born at Bridgeport Hospital today, they probably would have survived and thrived, because in 1973, the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NBICU) was established to care for premature or critically ill infants. That makes 2003 not only the 125th year of Bridgeport Hospital's founding—but also the 30th Anniversary of the NBICU.

"Today, thanks to the development of new medications and treatment techniques, babies weighing just over one pound have a good chance of not only surviving, but growing into healthy children," says Dr. Robert Herzlinger, the Newborn ICU's medical director since 1976.

Amanda Today!

Pictures of bright-eyed, healthy youngsters line the walls of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NBICU). Below each one is a notation: "Two pounds, five ounces," "One pound, 14 ounces," "One pound, six ounces." The notation represents how much...or how little...each of these children weighed at birth.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words," says Betty Hill, RN, nurse manager of the Newborn ICU. "The pictures in our unit are proof of that saying."