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Hug Me Early initiative supports preterm babies and their families

Early kangaroo care a priority for World Prematurity Day.

A woman holds a small baby to the skin on her chest while looking at a woman nurse sitting alongside of her.
SydneyConnect Image:  Kellie holds her baby Tilly to her chest in a practice known as kangaroo care. 

Holding your baby for the first time is a special moment for any new parent, but for Kellie and her partner Aurelien, their first cuddles with their daughter Tilly were especially significant. 

Tilly was born at 29 weeks after a tricky pregnancy for Kellie, who was admitted to RPA’s Women and Babies Unit at 26 weeks with placenta previa and bleeding. 

Three weeks later, Tilly arrived and was taken straight to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit while her mum recovered. 

The very next day, Kellie and Aurelien were overjoyed to be able to hold their little one on their chests for the first time. 

“It was really lovely,” said Kellie; “she was a kilo, you could hardly feel her on your chest. 

“I was quite surprised that we were able to touch her so early, that within 24 hours, nearly within 12, we were doing kangaroo care.” 

Kangaroo care emphasises the importance of holding the naked or partially dressed baby against the bare skin of a parent for as long as possible each day. 

17 November is World Prematurity Day, a day to raise awareness of preterm birth. 

The global theme for World Prematurity Day 2023 is ‘Small actions, BIG IMPACT: immediate skin-to-skin care for every baby everywhere’ – a message that’s a priority in RPA’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. 

Registered Nurse and Research Officer Jennifer Middleton is spearheading the Hug Me Early initiative in the unit, encouraging parents to have early skin-to-skin contact. 

“Our Hug Me Early project started as we noted infants born earlier than 32 weeks and their families were not experiencing early kangaroo care when compared to our late preterm and term infants,” she said. 

This can be due to mum and baby being separated when baby is transferred to the Neonatal ICU or when the baby needs medical interventions such as breathing tubes, but early skin-to-skin can be greatly beneficial. 

“Kangaroo care with your infant can improve lactation rates and improve breastfeeding,” explained Jennifer. 

“It also helps with the mental health of both parents when they can sit and hold their infant, rather than sit at the side and look through the portholes of the incubator.” 

For the baby, it can help to maintain body temperature, regulate heartbeat and breathing, improve oxygen saturation, support breastfeeding, and improve chances of survival. 

Kellie has recovered and is staying nearby at Sydney Local Health District’s Medi-hotel, which has meant she can visit Tilly in the Neonatal ICU for kangaroo care every day. 

“It wasn’t until quite a few weeks after she was born that I realised that her body temperature became my body temperature; she’s using me to help regulate herself. 

“Just today, I went to see her. She was crying and the minute I picked her up, she settled on my chest and there wasn’t a peep for the next hour.  

“Little things like that are so reassuring. It’s a bit of a surreal feeling and quite magical.” 

Families like Kellie, Aurelien and Tilly demonstrate the power of kangaroo care for early preterm babies and are encouraging Jennifer and her team to continue developing the Hug Me Early initiative. 

“We are working towards improving the proportion of infants born earlier than 32 weeks who receive kangaroo care within six hours of admission to 50 per cent,” Jennifer said.  

“We would ultimately like to move to immediate kangaroo care at birth for preterm infants not requiring immediate support with breathing.” 

For now, Kellie and Aurelien are spending their time with Tilly singing, talking and reading to her while enjoying kangaroo care. 

Tilly has put on half a kilogram and grown four centimetres and her parents are now looking forward to when she can come off oxygen and eventually come home.