Each year, more than 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, more than half a million in the United States alone. Many of these babies who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy end up in the neonatal intensive care unit, but babies who are born underweight, with a medical condition, infection, birth defects or heart problems are also very often admitted to the NICU. Though parents are often able to be in the NICU with their baby, physical and emotional separations—whether it be the incubator that the baby is in or bonding limitations—make an already difficult situation even more so.

Based on the problems that parents face when their baby is put in the NICU, one mother decided to invent a product that helps ease the pain. Yamile Jackson, a mother of a premature baby, created the Zaky, an ergonomically-designed infant pillow that helps humanize the developmental care given to babies, providing comfort and security to them even when a parent is not there to hold them. Shaped like hands, they cradle the baby and provide the warmth and scent of the parents, which supports the developmental stages, according to their website.

When Jackson first created the Zaky for her son in 2001, she simply filled a pair of gardening gloves with beads and when she wasn’t able to be there, would tuck the Zaky against him. After Zachary was finally discharged five months later, Jackson received a call from one of the NICU nurses, asking if she could make Zakys for the rest of the unit. She went on to make 100 for the unit and started her own business.

Nurtured by Design was formed so that Jackson could continue providing care solutions to premature babies. Oprah Winfrey even awarded Jackson a $25,000 so that she could create more. She made it her mission to help babies and has since developed other baby nurturing solutions, including a Kangaroo Zak, which allows for prolonged kangaroo care sessions.

The Zaky not only helps mimic the warmth and touch of human hands, but it also helps reduce apnea/bradycardia events, thus ensuring deep sleep and proper brain development. According to Scary Mommy, “babies who had an unscented Zaky tucked around them had about a third less As and Bs breathing episodes than the babies who had nothing with them. The babies who had a Zaky that had been scented by mom had no breathing episodes at all.”

What started off as a means to comfort both new-mom Jackson and her son has now grown and is available in more than 300 hospitals across the country.

Now 15, Zachary, Nurtured by Design’s Chief Inspiration Officer, is healthy and continues to inspire Jackson to create innovative care solutions for premature babies and other vulnerable members of society.

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