Children's Hospital Colorado

Neonatal Physical Therapy

Our pioneering neonatal program treats the smallest patients at their most vulnerable, achieving the outcomes that affect the rest of their lives.

Best Children's Hospital by U.S. News & World Report Neonatology 2021-2 Badge

Babies in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) have special physical and emotional needs. We care for the most seriously ill babies who may face medical challenges, have difficulty bonding or feel stress related to their care. 

Our skilled physical therapists know how to help these babies overcome their unique challenges. Physical therapists work with babies in the NICU — and their parents — to help promote bonding and healthy development. 

What is neonatal physical therapy?

For older children and adults, physical therapy (PT) is a way to improve muscle strength and movement or rehabilitate after an injury. Neonatal physical therapy has different goals. 

Touch can increase the breathing and heart rates of babies in the NICU. This can make routine care, feeding and movement stressful for infants. 

Our neonatal physical therapists are specially trained to help comfort our smallest, most vulnerable patients. Their work promotes bonding, healing and development of motor skills. This can help babies feed, sleep and breathe better, and leave the hospital sooner. 

What conditions can benefit from neonatal physical therapy?

Our physical therapists work with families throughout their stay in the NICU. Physical therapy can help babies with a wide variety of medical conditions such as:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Newborn brain injury
  • Neurological conditions
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Genetic conditions

What services do neonatal physical therapists provide?

Physical therapy for babies in the NICU is personalized to each infant’s needs. Our physical therapists are here to help babies feel calm and interact with their environment. We design unique treatment plans to support preemies or other critically ill infants and help NICU nurses and parents better care for them. 

The NICU medical team closely monitors your baby’s condition and recommends physical therapy when needed. Our physical therapists meet with families in the NICU to evaluate their baby’s needs and create a treatment plan. We collaborate with families to arrange services during the time of day that works best. 

When your baby is ready to leave the NICU, our therapists work with you, your medical team and community resources to create a discharge plan. Since your baby may need continued support after they go home, we coordinate with outpatient clinic services and home care agencies. 

Newborn physical therapy

Our physical therapists start by closely observing your baby and how they respond to touch and medical treatment. They’ll see what prompts changes to your baby’s breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels. This helps them understand what’s stressful to your baby and how they can help your baby feel more comfortable. 

Newborn physical therapy also includes:

  • Working on the best ways to position and handle your baby during medical treatment
  • Finding out what positions help your baby move, sleep and soothe themselves
  • Monitoring your baby’s development
  • Teaching and practicing motor skills such as sucking on a pacifier and reaching your baby’s hand to their mouth
  • Encouraging sensory development, such as learning to follow an object with their eyes 

Help for parents and caregivers

Neonatal physical therapists also work with parents and caregivers in the NICU, teaching them how to best bond with and care for their baby. This can include:

  • Assisting with feeding positions and techniques
  • Motor skill development
  • Infant massage
  • Help with environmental adaptation, including recommendations for adaptive equipment and positive sensory experiences
  • Boosting parent confidence in handling your infant safely
  • Teaching ways to bond with your baby
  • Providing education and support for parents getting ready to bring their baby home

Our expert neonatal physical therapy care team

The neonatal physical therapy team includes highly skilled, licensed pediatric therapists. Our therapists specialize in treating fragile and critically ill babies. With more than 65 years of combined experience, we are experts at supporting infants with a wide range of medical conditions, complications and developmental needs. 

Where to find our neonatal physical therapy services

We provide neonatal physical therapy at two locations: