Trust Neonatal Unit has heart.

Neonatal care has happily come on by leaps and bounds in the last decade. The Northern Health and Social Care Trust aims to provide top class care to new parents whose premature babies require the best 21st century medical treatment simply to survive.

While babies born prematurely (that is, before 37 weeks and as early as 24 weeks) and also full term babies needing assistance are cared for in the newly refurbished 16 cot neonatal unit at Antrim Area Hospital, it’s important to encourage mother-baby bonding. This is not always immediately achievable due to the babies’ dependency on hi-tech monitors and respiratory assistance.

However, through an innovative UNICEF initiative that encourages the link between the new mothers and their babies involving two cloth hearts measuring a few inches across, bonding can take place. The hearts are made by the ‘Just Sew’ voluntary group in Broughshane. When the premature baby is admitted, he or she is given two hearts made of a soft material. One is worn by the infant, one by the mother, next to their skin.

When visiting her baby in the Neonatal Unit, mum is encouraged to swap hearts with the baby, so that they become used to each other’s smell, a crucial part of the bonding process. This helps to promote a close and loving relationship between mother and child at a very difficult time.

One mother who knows first hand how beneficial the cloth hearts can be is Louise Baines from Kildress. The mother of three has just given birth to baby daughter Nancy, who was born at 34 weeks, and she described her experience: “I had abnormal blood flow and when they discovered Nancy wasn’t growing, they said they had to deliver her as soon as possible.” The baby was induced, and Louise found to her dismay that breastfeeding wasn’t as easy as with her other two daughters, the new baby’s big sisters.

Mrs Baines added: “Although Nancy was doing really well and didn’t need oxygen, she was still not flourishing. This was partly because I was struggling with my milk, expressing enough to feed her was difficult so the nurse suggested these cloth hearts.”

Louise wore one, as did Nancy, then they swapped the pretty bits of material, now impregnated with their smell. As Louise said, the reaction was instant, and positive. “Immediately, I felt my body stimulated by the smell of her. What was lovely was that I was able to take the heart home and show the older girls. They haven’t been able to see their sister yet, but they could touch the heart she’d worn and this put them in contact with her.”

Neonatal clinical sister Lorraine McClenaghan commented: “The expectation is these special hearts may help with the bonding process between mother and baby, especially during separation when the baby’s in the Neonatal Unit. Scents are transferred via the hearts which are exchanged regularly. This in turn can help breast milk production for mum.” She added: “Human milk is more than just a meal, it is the gold standard in neonatal nutrition. It should always be viewed as a life-saving medication for fragile infants, and an essential part of premature baby care.”

Louise Baines added that in terms of psychological bonding, the cloth hearts have also helped her and her new daughter. “Yes, I really think they’ve made a difference.” They will continue to help forge that crucial mother and baby bond in the weeks Nancy remains in hospital.

29th November 2016

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