In the UK, around 60,000 babies are born prematurely every year. These babies and their families face a difficult start to life which can lead to long-term impacts both physically and emotionally.
At Tommy’s, we believe that every baby deserves the best possible start in life, and that every parent should be able to access the support they need to form bonds with their babies in that critical early period.
When a baby is born prematurely, new parents are plunged into a situation of uncertainty. Some babies are born simply too small and too poorly to survive, while others face days, weeks or months of treatment on neonatal intensive care or a special care baby unit.
As well as dealing with the wrench of being separated from their baby physically on the unit, parents may also need to take in a huge amount of medical and technical detail in a very short space of time. Tommy’s understands this and has developed an app, ‘My premature baby’, which helps families access information in an easily-searchable format, alongside other support.
Understandably, this period can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. A recent survey conducted by Leo’s Neonatal, found that 79% of parents said they felt their mental health had been affected by their neonatal journey.
Kate Pinney, Midwifery Manager at Tommy’s, knows exactly how anxiety-inducing it can be when a baby is born very early or seriously unwell:
‘What should be a joyful moment for parents is instead filled with worry and alarm. The hum of incubators and the beeping of machines in neonatal intensive care are the memories which stay with families, as is the physical separation from their baby by plastic walls, wires and tubes. Understandably, these early experiences can affect bonding and leave families traumatised.’
‘That’s why we’re supporting Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week, encouraging people to speak about their experiences of having a baby in intensive care,’ says Kate Pinney.
At Tommy’s, we know it’s vital to break down barriers of silence around pregnancy complications, premature birth and baby loss, so we can make sure parents have the help and support they need.’
Lottie King, founder of Leo’s Neonatal, is very familiar with the neonatal journey after losing her son, Leo, in 2015:
‘The doors of intensive care opened, and there he was, the most beautiful little boy in the world. I fell in love instantly. Our first hello would be our goodbye. Our first cuddle would be our last together in this world.’
Lottie founded Leo’s Neonatal in his name, to try and encourage more people to open up about their neonatal journey, and the mental health impact it can have:
‘We launched Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week to provide support to anyone affected by mental health illnesses, pregnancy loss and the death of a baby. Together with health professionals and services, we are committed to raise more awareness of mental health issues and the neonatal journey and unite for better care across the country.
If you’ve experienced mental health issues before, during, or after pregnancy, please reach out here.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.
Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.