Having your first cuddle with your baby is one of the most emotional moments in any parents’ life, but for some it does not always come as soon as they had hoped.
For babies that are born early or with other complications it is often not possible for their mum or dad to hold them for several days, or sometimes even weeks.
This year Nottingham University Hospitals Charity paid for my colleague Judith Stephenson and I to travel to a hospital in Uppsala, Sweden to watch how neonatal nurses there work. Premature babies have a much higher survival rate in their country and we wanted to find out why. In particular, we were looking at how they use something called ‘Kangaroo Care’.
The concept originated in Colombia, where hospitals could not afford equipment like incubators. It involves the baby being placed on a parent’s bare chest wearing only a nappy for long periods of time. Babies stay there for as long as possible – sometimes up to 14 hours - and research has shown it helps to regulate their temperature, improves their oxygen levels and stabilises their heart rate. It also helps with breast-feeding as it improves the mum’s production of milk.
In the UK and Europe we are fortunate to have so much advanced technology that it is often easy to become over-reliant on it. Kangaroo Care is one of the most basic forms of care possible, yet hospitals here do not use it as much as they could. There is a fear that ill babies should not be taken out of incubators but it is possible to use this method on some of the tiniest babies, even if they still need feeding tubes and ventilation.
One of the scariest things for new parents who have premature babies is the lack of control, but Kangaroo Care puts them back in the driving seat. Who better to help improve the health of a new baby than the mums and dads themselves?
Following our visit we have introduced more training for staff at NUH about Kangaroo Care and have produced official guidelines for them to refer to. We are also looking in to getting some special shirts developed for mums to wear, which help to free up their hands while they have their babies on them and preserve their dignity.We still have a long way to go before the method is as accepted in the UK as it is in Sweden, but the benefits cannot be underestimated.