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Nurtured in the NICU: IWK Parents Take YouTube

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

By Erica Rezpecki

There are millions of channels active on YouTube today, but there’s one in particular that you might want to take a look at: IWK NICU.

​Let’s rewind to where the channel began.

​Leah Whitehead co-founded the Parent Partner Program at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after spending several months there with her own premature baby. Leah had her baby, who is now a healthy five-year-old, at 28 weeks back in 2013. Leah says that while many parts of her experience in the IWK were wonderful, there were areas with room for improvement, and Whitehead wanted to give back to the community by helping to make change happen.

​The primary area for improvement that Leah felt was simply in orientation to the centre. While NICU staff do an excellent job of orienting parents when they first arrive, Leah says, many parents aren’t in the headspace to absorb and retain all of the information being provided to them since they are under a lot of stress at the time. Many parents then feel too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask again, and may simply go without knowing instead.

​To combat this issue around information-sharing, Leah and the other members of the Parent Partner Program decided to work together to produce a series of videos by NICU families, for NICU families. They decided on the topics by thinking about what they wanted to know when they first arrived to the IWK, and Leah used her background in videography to shoot the videos.

A key element of the videos is that they’re entirely unscripted – Leah would simply ask the parents to begin explaining a topic, and would film what they said. It took great courage and emotional resilience on the behalf of the parents, Leah says, to speak their truths on camera, but this is what gives the videos such a personal feeling, and gives them a human touch for parents who may be surrounded by a lot of confusing medical information.This unscripted nature gives the videos authenticity, and also made some videos turn out to be hilarious, while others turned out unexpectedly raw and emotional.

To make the videos accessible for parents at any time, Leah created the IWK YouTube channel in January 2019 and put the videos into different playlists. NICU parents can now watch the videos any time they need, to touch up on information on their own and regain their independence during their stay in the NICU.

The IWK hosted a red carpet launch party at their movie theatre, where NICU parents and health care providers, including the CEO of IWK, came together to watch some of the videos, enjoy popcorn and drinks, and celebrate the release of the videos.

The videos are divided into four playlists on the IWK channel – one called “First Things First” with information and emotional support for parents, another called “Education” with information for both parents and NICU staff, and two others, “NICU North” and “NICU 2” to orient parents to these areas.

To check out Leah and the Parent Partner Program’s great work, head over to their YouTube channel here:

Nurtured in the NICU stories are created by the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation to highlight the wonderful work of doctors, nurses, and parent volunteers in Canada’s NICUs. For more information or if you would like to share an initiative happening in your NICU, please send us an email at

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