The Empower Program™

EmpowerThe Empower Program™ is an early intervention, family-centered, multi-sensory, developmental care program for parents of babies born at less than 30 weeks gestation. Designed by both parents and health care professionals at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, The Empower Program™ provides families with the knowledge and skills needed to parent their premature baby in the Newborn ICU.

The ability for parents to learn and appropriately respond to their babies’ behaviors is often hindered by high degrees of parental stress and/or anxiety. During this time, a parent’s readiness to learn, ability to concentrate, retain information and cognitively process is often limited. Evidence supports that parents who quickly engage in the care of their babies in the Newborn ICU tend to be more sensitive to their babies’ cues and have better relationships with them in later years, which is a positive predictor for improved infant outcomes. Because of the altered mood states of many parents who deliver a premature baby, it is important to provide parents with information and education in a format that is repetitive and can be retained over time.

The Empower Program™ uses multiple senses to aid in retention. Over the course of six weeks, and 3 separate parts, parents are given multiple opportunities to learn about their baby’s behaviors and appropriate parenting strategies through written word, pictures, video and hands-on training.

Part 1 is given within 2 to 4 days of the infant’s admission to the NICU. Education is specific to infant cues and physical characteristics and provision of breast milk.

Part 2 is offered 2 to 4 days after Part 1. Education is specific to nuzzling, skin-to-skin holding and reinforcement of Part 1.

Part 3 is a little more flexible and is dependent on the individual needs of the baby. Typically, Part 3 is given 4 weeks after Part 2 (approx. 5-6 weeks of age). Education is specific to infant cues (as age increases over time), PO readiness, infant massage and reinforcement of Parts 1 and 2.

The Empower Program™ consists of 5 components:

  • Master DVD with 3 parts (classroom or system license)
  • My Journey In the NICU notebook for families, including a page of NICU specific milestone stickers for the family calendar (additional notebooks and stickers may be purchased)
  • CD of all written materials found in the Journey notebook
  • Ten DVDs for parents to watch (additional DVDs may be purchased for hospitals that wish to give the DVD to the families)
  • Staff packet with education on how to administer The Empower Program™ along with written materials to give to families to reinforce the teaching

The Empower Program™ is consistent with The Joint Commission’s requirement for patient-centered care and was supported by a community grant from the March of Dimes. The Empower Program™ was nominated for the Magnet Prize in 2007.

The families and staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital have embraced The Empower Program™ and we are confident your families and staff will too!


The newborn brain represents both the greatest vulnerabilities to injury and the greatest opportunities to repair and recover. The Empower Program is a very important program to equip parents to overcome the challenges of being in the intensive care unit and assist their precious baby physically and emotionally. The value of this program and a parent’s role in the outcomes of our smallest and sickest infants is powerful.
-Terrie E. Inder, MD, PhD
Neonatologist, St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor, Washington University School of Medicine

The Empower Program videos helped me to cope with the very emotional experience of having a premature baby. It encouraged me to become involved in his care right away and I felt good that I could do things for him that no one else could do. I learned how to parent my baby in the NICU and felt prepared to take him home.
-Sam’s Mom

“This is an excellent program to support families in the NICU. It is both culturally and developmentally appropriate. Every family in the NICU should have the opportunity to participate in this program.”
-Jacqueline M. McGrath PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN
Associate Professor Family and Community Health Nursing
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing

“The DVDs and one-on-one hands-on teaching went into much more detail than the written material and the best thing was I could go back and watch the DVD if I didn’t understand something. It also help me realize that I’m not the only parent going through this and that others have gone through it and there is support.
-Nicholas’s Mom