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Adding a “little levity” to the stress of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), nurses at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), in Tallassee, Florida, dressed their tiniest charges in Halloween costumes ranging from popular movie characters such as Olaf from Frozen and the Boy Scout, bipolar treatment risperdal Russell, from Up to corporate icons such as a UPS driver and McDonald’s fries.

The nurses traditionally adorn the NICU newborns for fall and winter holidays. This year, a Facebook post with photos of 20 costumed newborns went viral, attracting national headlines. At press time, it had garnered more than 90,000 shares, 19,000 likes, and 5000 comments.

The post began with the intro: “You won’t boo-lieve how cute our NICU babies are this Halloween!” It continued with a show of appreciation for the staff who put together the photo opp. “Spooky season in the NICU is one of our favorite traditions, and this year is no exception! Thank you to our incredible NICU team who always go above and beyond to make holidays special for our NICU families,” the post stated.

Along with photos of outfitted babies posted online were further doses of creative talent: clever puns and movie lines to augment the humorous presentation.

 

For example, the explanation beside the McDonald’s fries’ child read: “Who you callin’ small fry?” The photo of a baby in Yoda garb was supplemented by, “Very tiny and cute, I am.” The UPS driver was described as an “extra special delivery,” and a box in the photo was designated, “UPS Next Day.”

Others in the photo spread included Pebbles from The Flintstones: “This’ll make for a real yabba-dabba-doozie of a story one day!” And Dory from Finding Nemo: “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” The families agreed to the photos and get to keep the outfits, said Morgan King, a hospital marketing rep.

“Dressing up the babies brings a little levity to the NICU,” said King. The tradition helps normalize the experience for families with a newborn in the NICU. “We try to make the holiday special for those who maybe didn’t anticipate their baby would be here,” King said.

 

 

But the holiday dress-up tradition has also lightened the mood for nurses who have been under extraordinary pressure during the pandemic the past 2 years, King added. “It brings joy to really everyone involved. It brings smiles to everyone’s faces.”

Echoing those sentiments was Yamanda Williams, RN, a charge nurse in the NICU who leads the team of nurses who crafted the costumes. “It can be very stressful to have a baby in the NICU. Every holiday that comes and goes without their baby at home is something else parents feel they’re missing out on.”

Williams explained the selection process for featured babies. “Earlier in the month, we started talking to the parents of babies who were smaller and sicker at the time, because we knew they’d likely still be in the NICU for Halloween. We let them know we had some special surprises for them. They looked forward to it all month!…. It helps them see through all the alarms and cords, so they can just enjoy their baby celebrating their first Halloween.”

 

About the attention the photos have received: “It’s like the world is watching our babies ― they are little celebrities. We love to see people’s responses to these little people trying to continue to grow and make it out into the world. It really feels good.”

In addition to the typical “oohs” and “ahs” that cute babies inspire, Facebook comments included recognition of the NICU staff. “As the mommy of a NICU grad,” one post began, “this makes my heart warm and fuzzy!! Thank you for doing this and bringing a ray of sunshine for their families.”

TMH further explained the purpose of the holiday merriment in a press statement. “Tallahassee Memorial is home to the only NICU and high-risk labor and delivery unit in Florida’s Big Bend region and we work to make the environment as comfortable as possible for our babies and families.”

 

Joking aside, the Facebook post ended with the medical version of a small parent advisory. “Disclaimer: Please remember, you should always place your little ones on their backs to sleep, with nothing else in the crib. These NICU babies have special circumstances and are monitored 24/7 by our skilled nursing team.”

So even with all the Halloween frivolity, the nurses capitalized on the opportunity for a teaching moment.

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