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Comprehensive care for families of premature babies at RPA

Bronwyn and Vanessa share their story for World Prematurity Day. 

A premature baby with medical equipment lying on his mother.
SydneyConnect Image: Baby Jett at RPA Newborn Care

Arriving almost 13 weeks early, baby Jett caught his parents by surprise.

Vanessa and Bronwyn were due to welcome their little one in January 2023.

But during a routine scan in October, they got the news that there wasn't enough amniotic fluid around their baby, a condition known as oligohydramnios, and that he'd have to be delivered via Caesarean section as soon as possible.

The family was urgently transferred to RPA and the next day, Jett was born at 27 weeks and two days, weighing 729g.

The couple is sharing their story on World Prematurity Day, to help raise awareness about preterm births.

Bronwyn was relieved when she first heard her son cry, but there was a lot for the couple to get their heads around.

"It took a couple of days to process - we had a baby now! We knew that we had but it was such a surreal thing that he was here. Then the more cuddles and skin-to-skin that you have, you start to build a connection and realise that he's yours and you're totally attached," she said.

Jett is now being cared for at RPA Newborn Care, the hospital's specialist neonatal intensive care unit, and will stay there until close to his original due date.

The unit is a state-wide referral service and cares for 1000 newborn babies each year, many of whom are preterm, small or from outside of the District.

Becoming parents to a premature baby has been emotional, especially when it was time to go home.

"There was that emotional process of getting over the shock of the birth, making sure he was OK and then you're hit with, you're getting discharged without your kid. That was really hard," Vanessa said.

The support the family has received from the Newborn Care team has helped, with doctors and nurses answering their questions and lactation consultants helping them to start breastfeeding Jett.

A social worker arranged accommodation for them near to RPA so they wouldn't have to travel between the hospital and their home in the Blue Mountains.

"The team has been amazing. It has been hard, but everyone is incredible and supportive and this has made it easier for us," said Bronwyn.

Welcoming a baby prematurely is stressful, said Dr Mark Greenhalgh, Head of Newborn Care, so parents need to be taken care of too.

"It can be very tough; they are recovering from the birth and have this really vulnerable baby, so a big part of what we do is ensuring the wellbeing of parents."

Bronwyn and Vanessa have joined the unit's parents' group and staff have helped them make a scrapbook documenting Jett's journey.

When they can't be with him, they can watch a livestream of Jett in his crib via a webcam - something Vanessa likes to do when she wakes up to pump overnight.

This individual webcam system was installed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and Newborn Care at RPA is one of only a handful of hospitals in Australia that offers this for families.

It's part of a big-picture approach that the unit's multi-disciplinary team takes.

"We support parents and develop relationships with them because we're going to be friends for a long time.

"Families like Jett's will come back to us multiple times throughout their childhood for follow-up appointments around his development, so we want them to know we're always working with them to do the very best for their child."

Bronwyn and Vanessa are looking forward to bringing Jett home and introducing him to his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but until then, they're happy to be in Newborn Care.

"We're looking forward to spending Christmas with everyone there. We couldn't have done it without them - they are our second family for life," Bronwyn said.