Joey Jersey gives moms the privacy essential to building a bond with a preemie

In a room filled with people coming and going, Shayla Tiner held her tiny daughter against her bare chest without embarrassment.

Something called a Joey Jersey helped Tiner to maintain her modesty and still allow Kinley to get the skin-to-skin contact that is so beneficial. Instead of hiding behind awkward screens or under blankets, the new mom was able to relax and enjoy holding her baby.

"It's much easier when you are not exposing yourself," said Tiner, whose daughter was born a month premature.

For decades, skin-to-skin contact -- called kangaroo care -- has been recognized for its many benefits in neonatal intensive-care units around the globe. It was first used in 1983 in Colombia when a doctor placed a diaper-clad preemie on a mother's bare chest so that the infant could hear the parent's heart.

Long-term studies of kangaroo care have found that it shortens hospital stays and decreases the mortality rate, said Cathe Wooley, nurse manager at the NICU of Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The skin-to-skin contact also helps babies maintain their body warmth, regulate their heart and breathing rates, gain weight and sleep more deeply, said Amanda Davis, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Cook Children's.

"Babies who were disoriented and stressed out get on the chest, and their heart rate goes down," she said. "It's almost like being in the womb."

Although mothers often enjoyed the experience, they hesitated to give kangaroo care a try because they felt so exposed. Screens and blankets were used, but many still felt awkward. They also were afraid that the tubes and wires that their infant was connected to would come out or that the monitors would get unhooked.

That was when Davis went to work on her sewing machine. After several attempts she fashioned a one-size-fits-all flannel drape with pockets for pacifiers and ties that keep breathing tubes or IVs in place.

New moms were so relieved to be able to hold their babies without fear of embarrassment that the Joey Jersey quickly caught on.

Davis plans to fine-tune the product and market it to other hospitals.

Being against their mother's skin, the babies feel so much calmer, Davis said.

"These tiny premature babies aren't even supposed to be here yet," she said. "But this way they can be close to Mom, feel her warmth and hear her heartbeat."

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664