Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely in England and Wales every year. These babies are more likely to experience health issues such as chronic lung disease or bowel problems, as they were born before they had finished growing.
They often struggle with feeding and keeping warm, and they need frequent monitoring and support in hospital for days, weeks or sometimes even months. This early period can be intensely emotional and stressful for parents.
Heidi Livesey, whose daughter Ebony was born at 26 weeks weighing just 511g, said:
"The word 'roller coaster' is used a lot in neonatal units and that best sums it up – you walk into an alien environment, machines beeping, not knowing what you'll find or how your baby's health is going to be.
"One of the hardest things is spending days just looking at a tiny baby in an incubator. The nurses are amazing, but it's a lonely experience."
To support mums and dads through this complicated and highly emotional period baby charity Tommy's have created the My Premature Baby app.
The app is the first of it's kind available to UK parents. Tommy's Midwifery Manager Emma-Lees Lang said:
"Nothing can prepare parents for their baby arriving too soon and the early days can be an emotional roller-coaster of learning, questioning and weathering the ups and downs of their baby's progress.
"Premature babies can need a lot of care, testing and monitoring and all the different equipment, charts and information can be a lot for mums and dads to take in.
"We created the My Premature Baby App so that parents can quickly search for expert information at any time of day and night, keep track of their baby's development and care needs, and share their baby's journey with wider family and friends – all without leaving their baby's side."
The app was designed in consultation with parents of premature babies. It is intended to act as a 'companion' to parents, giving them practical advice and insight through their time in the Neonatal Unit or Special Care Baby Unit.
It includes: Tommy's Having a Premature Baby Guide, to help answer any questions; a tool for plotting your baby's weight and height on developmental charts; alarms for breastfeeding and expressing; a diary feature, to record your baby's progress and your own thoughts and feelings. (There is the option to share your diary with other parents and to read the diaries of others who have gone through similar experiences); and a Finding Friends feature through which parents can contact other local parents who have had a premature baby.
Heidi was one of the first mums to try out the new app.
"The Tommy's My Premature Baby App is fantastic as it's full of information that you're too caught up to ask staff about," she said. "And it's brilliant that it will help mums and dads to learn from other people's experiences and find friends who know what they're going through."
Tommy's My Premature Baby App is available to download for free from www.prematurityapp.org.
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