Sometimes it really is the little things that can make a difference, and for the parents of premature babies it is hoped that a new "Preemie Proud" sticker initiative will make a big difference.
Acting as a visible reminder, the stickers designed by The Smallest Things campaign, can be used to personalise a baby's red book, alerting health care professionals to a babies NICU history.
The stickers aim to -
• Raise awareness of premature birth
• Prompt a conversation between health professional and parent about their neonatal journey
• Engage health professionals in learning more about the realities of neonatal care
• Highlight the extra support often needed by parents of premature babies
• Highlight the increased risk of of developing postnatal depression, anxiety and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following neonatal intensive
• Offer a gentle reminder to use a babies corrected age when plotting their weight on a growth chart
Every year 80,000 babies are born requiring specialist neonatal care services in the UK, with 20,000 facing a prolonged period of time in hospital. Their parents face a turbulent and uncertain journey, and for many their time spent in NICU will have a lasting impact.
Finally home, a mother finds herself waiting to see the health visitor. Sitting in line, waiting her turn, she could be mistaken for any other new mum - a mother who has recently given birth, a mother holding her new baby close.
And yet she's not a new mum; she gave birth months ago and her 'new' baby has already been through more than most could ever imagine.
She reminds the health visitor that her baby was born prematurely and as they go to chart the baby's weight she gently remind them that it needs to be plotted according to their corrected age.
Her baby is 10 weeks old - "Are they smiling yet?" the health visitor asks. The mother shakes her head with a sigh; she's been asked this question before.
"He hasn't reached his due date yet" she replies.
"How are you getting on?" the health visitor asks....
How can you explain that every time you pass a heavily pregnant woman you feel a pang of jealously? How can you explain that you are still grieving for the loss of your third trimester, the loss of the first precious hold, the loss of a 'normal birth' and the loss of weeks, if not months, of your maternity leave? Do you open up about the flash backs, the worry, the guilt and exhaustion? How do you begin to explain the pain of having to leave your baby every day.
As a sympathetic nod to the journey you have been on, a well-meaning health visitor notes that "NICU must have been hard, ....but you're home now".
This plays into the common misconception that once you are discharged home from neonatal care your NICU journey is behind you; but for parents of premature babies this is far from the truth. We know that 40% of mothers who spend time in NICU experience post-natal depression (compared to 5-10% of mothers delivering at full term with no complications), and that more than half report symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder once their baby is home.
Health visitors in particular, with their specific training, are in a unique position to support the families of babies born prematurely. That is why The Smallest Things "Preemie Proud" Red Book initiative is so exciting. A sticker; only a small and a simple idea, that could make a real difference in the lives of thousands NICU families in the UK.