The neonatal intensive care unit at Saint Thomas Midtown is the first in Middle Tennessee to go live with baby webcams, a technological upgrade that hospitals around the country have been installing.
But the video streams are seen as more than a modern convenience.
When babies are born prematurely, they can spend weeks or even months at the hospital. After 20 years as a neonatal nurse, Sherri Anderson has seen mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to be at the hospital every waking hour, sometimes commuting long distances.
"The parents go through a lot — emotionally, spiritually, physically," Anderson says. "It's very taxing, and sometimes they just need to go home and just recover."
Saint Thomas has installed its first webcams, which provide a closeup shot that anyone in the world can log on to see with a password. They're being paid for with proceeds from a special "Rock the Cradle" fundraiser.
Jill Brothers has twin boys born at 27 weeks with at least another month in the NICU. Her husband, who plays professional baseball, is currently working in Florida.
"So this has been a crucial element to just being a part and feeling like you're involved with their growth," she says. "There's lots of other people in the family that have been able to log on and see the boys and see them real-time, which is great."
Brothers still comes to the hospital every day, but she finds herself checking the web stream when she's up in the middle of the night to watch the boys breathing.
Nurses do turn off the cameras while they're working with the babies, in order to reduce scrutiny about how they're doing their jobs and avoid startling friends and family who might log in to see an empty crib.
Hospitals are hoping the video streams might reduce some of the tension around who gets to see the baby. Currently, parents can only grant four people access to the NICU throughout their entire stay. And during flu season, the visitation policy is even more strict.
"Parents who have smaller children at home who ... rather leave their children at home, but they really want them to see their siblings, this gives them the option," says Donna Darnell, nursing director for the St. Thomas NICU.
In Nashville, Centennial Medical Center is considering the cameras. Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, which has the region's only level IV NICU, does not plan to add webcams but does provide iPads so families can FaceTime with the newborns.