Fall 2022

Milestone monitor

NICU Follow-Up Program helps premature and critically ill newborns get their best possible start in life

When newborns spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), M Health Fairview neonatologists, nurses, and other care providers pour their efforts into helping these fragile babies thrive. And the vast majority of them do.

That’s in no small part because the experts in the NICU Follow-Up Program are monitoring their growth and milestones, checking in at critical times in a child’s development to make sure that NICU graduates get their best possible start in life.

“The earlier you can diagnose and the earlier you can intervene, the better the outcome is. The brain is much more adaptable when it’s young.”
Michael Georgieff, M.D., medical director of the NICU Follow-Up Program and codirector of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain

Now part of the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, NICU Follow-Up Program care providers work to identify concerns that especially affect premature and critically ill newborns. Discovering any issues and starting therapies as early as possible can make an enormous difference in these children’s long-term outcomes.

Philanthropy fuels the research that gives our NICU Follow-Up Program experts the knowledge they need to help NICU graduates thrive. To make a gift, contact Jonna Schnettler of the University of Minnesota Foundation at jschnett@umn.edu or 612-624-5588.

Says Erin Osterholm, M.D., NICU medical director at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the U’s Medical School: “We do everything we can to help these babies make progress through infancy and early childhood.”



First visit:
Four months after due date

This is an important time of brain development for babies, when infants shift from reflexive movement to more coordinated action. The clinic team—which includes a neonatologist, a neonatal nurse practitioner, and an occupational therapist—checks on the baby’s growth and nutrition, movement, neurodevelopment, and social development. They aim to rule out concerns like cerebral palsy, motor disabilities, and issues with cognitive development, or refer families for therapies if needed.


Second visit:
One year after due date

The care team, now including a neuropsychologist, performs assessments of cognitive, language, and motor skills, with subsets like gross motor skills (standing and walking) and fine motor skills (picking up finger foods). The assessment alerts caregivers to areas of delay that could be addressed through occupational, physical, or speech and language therapy.


Third visit:
2 years old

The team reassesses the toddler’s motor skills, as well as cognitive and language development. Can they understand requests and make their own wants known? Providers also evaluate the toddler’s attention, such as whether they can concentrate on an activity or a story, as babies born prematurely are at risk for concerns like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.


Fourth visit:
4 to 5 years old

Now providers are primarily assessing school readiness. The care team zeroes in on the child’s working memory, attention, and processing speed, as well as performance IQ. If an area needs attention, the child receives therapies from providers like neuropsychologists or pediatric psychologists so they’ll be set up for success when they start school.