Editor's note: This story was updated on December 20, 2019.
To celebrate the holiday season this year, hospitals around the country are bringing a little joy to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and their infant care facilities by decking out their smallest patients in tiny festive attire.
Newborns dress up for the holidays
At the Mother-Baby Nursery at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, for example, Caitlin Pechin, an RN at the hospital, knitted Santa hats with an intergalactic twist: Yoda ears. To complete the Baby Yoda-inspired outfits, the hospital added onesies inspired by how Yoda speaks, with phrases like, "Cute, I am," and "Merry, must be."
Calling the infants the "force of our future," Patty Genday, CNO and VP of patient care services, said, "Nobody likes to see anything more than a beautiful baby in a cute little outfit, so we routinely dress them up based on the time of year or the occasion we may be celebrating."
Meanwhile, the staff at Clark Memorial Health tried to brighten the day for the parents of NICU patients by dressing up the newborns in knit Christmas-themed outfits, including reindeer antlers and Santa hats, and snapping photos with the phrase, "Miracles come in small packages."
Similarly, Shannon Younginer, a nurse at Summerville Medical Center in South Carolina, celebrated the season by knitting "ugly" sweaters for the facility's NICU patients. "Having a baby in the NICU can be very, very, scary for parents," she said. "So … coming in and seeing your baby dressed in the 'ugly' Christmas sweater, or even just having a cute little name tag on their bed, it means a lot. Parents really appreciate it."
And Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City in Missouri collaborated with March of Dimes Kansas City to dress up 31 NICU patients as Santa-delivered "gifts" this holiday season—complete with a crocheted Santa hat or hat with a bow, a bag filled with candy, a card with the infant's footprint, and a keepsake holiday book. To commemorate the occasion, three volunteer photographers, all of whom previously had infants in the NICU themselves, documented the festively attired newborns.
And at Ascension St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee Greg Phelps logged his 17th year making the rounds in the hospital's NICU as Santa Claus, a tradition he started after his own son was treated in the NICU in 1998. "It was a shock, and an absolutely chaotic event throughout the entire ordeal," Phelps said. But when Santa came to visit his son and the other NICU patients that year, the experience "helped … bring some hope and joy and brought a smile to our faces."
So when the original Santa retired, Phelps offered to take his place. "(Now), even though I'm dressed as Santa Claus and I'm there to spread holiday cheer and joy, I can legitimately tell parents that I was right where they were on or about this day," Phelps said (Singh, "Good Morning America," ABC, 12/16; Hayden, WHAS 11, 12/18; Overdeep, Southern Living, 12/17; Breen, "The Today Show," NBC, 12/18; Musto, Fox News, 12/14).