Clear Masks at OHSU Teach Babies How to Smile

Restrictions at the pandemic’s onset were affecting the way newborns and parents bonded—until Mollie Poor did something about it.

By Fiona McCann December 7, 2020 Published in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Portland Monthly

From the moment they open their eyes to the world, newborns have to contend with the fallout from COVID-19. In the neonatal intensive care unit at Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, new restrictions mean everybody visiting one of its tiny infant patients has to wear a mask.

Registered nurse Mollie Poor noticed the toll it was taking. Poor recalls one baby who had been born prepandemic but was still being treated when the restrictions came into place. “[The baby] had been smiling, and after a lot of prolonged mask use [by parents and her care team] she stopped smiling as much because she never saw anyone smiling back at her.”

Poor went to work, filling out forms and fighting, on behalf of the families, to use clear masks in the NICU. The masks, which have a foam rim that seals the nose and chin, gave parents the ability to connect and smile with their babies while following hospital protocols. The NICU implemented the clear masks on August 25, and Poor says she has seen the difference not just with babies, who take their developmental cues from parents’ expressions, but with the parents, too. “[For] a lot of moms holding their babies for the first time, or breastfeeding, being able to smile down at their babies has been pretty impactful on them,” she says.

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