Keeping Christmas special for the families of premature babies

Staff on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital together with new mum Hannah Caddy with 19-day-old d

Staff on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital together with new mum Hannah Caddy with 19-day-old daughter Florence Picture: ESNEFT - Credit: ESNEFT

Christmas can be tough for parents of premature babies - but staff at the neo-natal unit at Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals work hard to share the spirit of the season with families.

New mum Hannah Caddy with 19-day-old daughter Florence on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital Pic

New mum Hannah Caddy with 19-day-old daughter Florence on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital Picture: ESNEFT - Credit: ESNEFT

“It can be very stressful for families at Christmastime, especially if they have other children,” said Sarah Smith, head of nursing for women’s and children’s services with East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT).

She said parents could often feel pulled two ways - wanting to spend as much time as possible with their new sick or premature baby, but at the same time keen to keep Christmas special for their other children.

Registered nurse Sally Nasho and junior sisters Jo Edwards and Lisa Markwood (right) in the neo-nata

Registered nurse Sally Nasho and junior sisters Jo Edwards and Lisa Markwood (right) in the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital Picture: ESNEFT - Credit: ESNEFT

“So we do anything that we can to make things easier for them around Christmas. Our aim is to keep families together.”

Babies’ older brothers and sisters are encouraged to visit the units with their parents, although the children can’t actually go into the nursery areas.

Sarah Smith, Head of Nursing for Women's and Children's services, based at Ipswich and Colchester Ho

Sarah Smith, Head of Nursing for Women's and Children's services, based at Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals Picture: PAGEPIX LTD - Credit: PAGEPIX LTD


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“We want to protect the babies from infection, but it’s important for siblings to be there,” Miss Smith said.

At Christmas, staff put up decorations, although not in the nursery areas to avoid infection, creating a lovely atmosphere.

Dr Luisa Docherty works on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital Picture: ESNEFT

Dr Luisa Docherty works on the neo-natal unit at Ipswich Hospital Picture: ESNEFT - Credit: ESNEFT

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They also arrange for Father Christmas to visit the unit, visiting the babies’ older siblings and providing presents for them.

One custom is for staff to take the footprint of the new baby and turn it into an extra- special Christmas card for their parents to treasure.

Miss Smith said Christmas was a very special time at the hospital, and nurses and midwives really felt this if they were working over the season. “It’s lovely to see families staying together and to make it as nice as possible for them.”

The units at both Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals care for babies from 27 weeks gestation (twins 28 weeks). There are 18 cots at Ipswich and 17 at Colchester.

The peak birth time for most babies is around October, but for premature babies this tends to be some weeks earlier, during the summer.

This means neo-natal units may not be full at Christmas. Wherever possible, staff get parents and their baby home in time for Christmas, and then provide the support needed over the holiday period. “We have an excellent outreach team,” Miss Smith added.

Both Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals are now providing “transitional care,” which involves keeping new mums and premature babies together as much as possible at the hospital.

Miss Smith also said: “The nurses support both mums and dads, and dads can come in 24/7. We also have two family rooms.”

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