NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — After giving birth, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is not the place a parent wants their baby to be, but one New Bedford hospital offers a more personalized approach.

St. Luke’s Hospital opened a new unit that will treat critically ill newborns and their mothers.

“They each have their own room which is totally different from what we had in the past,” said Kim Pina, executive director of the Family Centered Unit.

The new unit includes “fully integrated couplet accommodations designed and constructed to coordinate acute care for both infant and mother, among the first such models in the Commonwealth,” according to the hospital.

Infants with acute conditions — such as breathing problems or temperature instability — after they are born will now be able to bond with their mothers in a private room that has centralized monitoring and is located closer to the on-call neonatologist’s office.

Before the new unit opened on Nov. 30, Pina said the old Level II nursery had no privacy.

“There would just be a curtain that would go around the parents if they wanted to have some private time with their baby or breastfeed or anything like that. It was very limited space. No privacy,” Pina said. “This is giving the parents a room to be with their baby that’s private, they can do skin to skin, they can breastfeed without fear of someone else coming in and seeing them.”

Now each of the eight rooms has a baby bassinet, as well as a couch that turns into a bed for the mother and father.

“Parents who transitioned from the old special care nursery, their babies are still here so they can see a huge difference and we’re getting glowing marks and glowing compliments about it,” Pina said. “They’re also actually giving us some tips about the nursery, we need clocks, giving some advice about the flow of the unit, and how we could do something better but how things are working out so well.”

Dr. Jessica Slusarki said NICU babies having their own room is relatively new for community hospitals like St. Luke’s.

“A lot of our babies who have required tertiary care when they’re coming back to the community to be closer to home to finish their recovery, the parents will still be able to maintain that same presence at the bedside that they were experiencing in Providence or Boston here in a community setting,” Slusarki said.

Now St. Luke’s is believed to be one of the first in the commonwealth to have a couplet care room.

“We have a bed for a postpartum mom as well as for her special care nurse baby to be cared for in the same space,” Slusarki continued. “We have nurses who are specially trained to care for a postpartum mom and a special care space baby. Allows mom to be present and care for her baby from the time of delivery to the time of discharge.”

When mothers can’t be there, volunteer Sharon Souza, a longtime retired nurse in the unit, reads to the babies.

“It’s been found that with premature babies if they’re read to every day, they have a much better chance at doing well in life socially, cognitively, emotionally, it has so many benefits,” Souza said.

The new center has a library named after Souza, and when babies are discharged they are given books, represented by the book cover art displayed in their bassinet room.

“I’m just so honored and humbled and the books don’t need my name on them, but I’m just so grateful that when I can no longer come in, the families are going to get books,” Souza said.

The books are donations from the organization Friends of Jack, which is a nonprofit helping provide support for children and families in area hospitals.

Along with children’s book cover art, the Special Care Nursery spaces will be decorated in renderings of animals at the Buttonwood Park Zoo.