Every year, over 100,000 babies are cared for in neonatal units in the UK. This is because they have either been born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), or full term (after 37 weeks), but sick.
This means that around 1 in 7 babies born in the UK are admitted to a neonatal unit each year. The actual number of these babies born to younger mums is not recorded at present. However, research identifies that being a young mum under the age of 20 years can increase the risk of your baby having to spend time on the Neonatal Unit (NNU). This is due to several reasons. The World Health Organisation (WHO) that looks at health across the world identifies that younger mum’s can be more at risk of complications in pregnancy. This can result in baby being born early or poorly.
Statistics taken from mums when they are pregnant also show that teenage mums have a higher rate of smoking. They can also find accessing midwives and health appointments more difficult. Again, this can contribute to a baby requiring additional support at the Neonatal unit when it is born.
What are some of the most challenging experiences for young parents of twins in the Neonatal unit?
For any parent who has just had a baby or two, being separated from their baby while they recover from the birth is extremely difficult to manage, emotionally. Baby may be in need of a lot of support. As a new mum and dad, having to rely on nurses and doctors to do that can be very stressful.
When mum recovers, she is encouraged to visit her baby in the Neonatal unit as much as she can. Parents also have open visiting to their baby under normal circumstances, pre-COVID. However, Neonatal units can be very scary with lots of machinery and noise. Often times, the baby may need to have procedures that can be very difficult for a parent to watch.
In the early days and sometimes weeks, a baby may need to be in an incubator and parents may not be able to even hold them. As soon as baby is well enough, staff will support the reunion of baby and parents. It is particularly important because being close to mum and dad can really help a baby recover and get better.
When baby is at the Neonatal unit it is important that you fully understand what is happening. You should get the opportunity to ask lots of questions and get them answered. It is also necessary to be fully involved in all decisions about your baby’s care. You should also have a named nurse for each shift, so that you can speak to them about your baby.
Managing challenges in the Neonatal Unit
If you have had twins, this process can be more challenging as both babies may have different medical needs. This means that you will have to balance different information for each baby. As a parent of twins managing routines and care for two babies can be even more difficult. For instance, it can take a while to gain your confidence on taking care of the baby.
Sometimes as a younger mum you may not have all the support networks older mums have. This can definitely make things even harder. For any mum with a baby on a NNU you need someone supporting and looking after you too. Often times, this practical and emotional need can be a challenge. Nurses on the unit want to support new parents as well as making babies better. You should make sure you discuss any worries and concerns you have with them. Make sure you take time to get some rest and to eat properly. You will need to be well and healthy for when the babies come home.
As new parents to twins you may have some practical issues you will have to manage particularly while your babies are in the NNU. Sometimes one baby is ready to go home before another, and one may be doing more poorly than another. These situations can be be really hard to manage.
The charity BLISS recognises this and gives lots of useful information and support on some of the challenges you may face. They also recognise that younger parents can find some of these things even more difficult. They have support which can be accessed at; https://www.bliss.org.uk/parents/support/emotional-support/email-support/young-parents
What are some of the changes that have had to happen in the Neonatal unit due to Covid-19?
As a result of COVID 19, hospitals have had to significantly change their visiting policies to protect both patient and staff. Due to this, maternity services have been particularly hit by this including NNU’s.
While giving birth or as a patient during ante-natal period, there are severe restrictions to who can visit. These changes have been put in place to keep everyone safe. Ordinarily, each hospital will have their own guidance regarding this so it is important that you speak to your midwife.
How does it impact an already vulnerable situation?
In the Neonatal unit, it has meant that who can visit and meet baby is restricted to parents. Again, each unit will have their own rules regarding this. Some babies can spend a long time in the Neonatal unit while they grow or recover. In this case, not having families to visit can be really challenging for parents.
For new parents who are really worried about their baby not being able to have support from relatives, or those unable to see their babies as much as they want, it has been very difficult. It may also mean that babies have to be transferred to different hospitals that deliver different levels of care. Parents may find this very difficult to manage.
COVID-19 has increased to parents stress significantly. However we have to remember that rules have been applied to keep everyone safe and that is very important. More information on this can be found on the BLISS website; https://www.bliss.org.uk/parents/support/coronavirus-covid-19-information
What safer sleep advice do you usually give to parents of twin babies that are leaving the Neonatal unit?
Before any baby goes home from the Neonatal unit, there are lots of preparation from the parents, doctors and nurses.
In some cases, babies can be born before parents have had a chance to get all the equipment they need for their baby. A handy guide to read before you do spend lots of money is the Lullaby Trust product guide. Most times, babies need a lot less equipment than parents think.
The full details to this information can be found here: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Lullaby-Trust-Product-Guide-Web.pdf
The medical team will make sure medicine is ordered and health checks are completed. Other services in the community like health visitors would know that mum and baby would be discharged. In these cases, they can also offer support.
Safer Sleep for Babies
As part of that discharge process the nursing staff should discuss risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They would also discuss how you can reduce that risk with some of the choices that you make as parents. Often, the staff will use resources from the Lullaby Trust to support these discussions and some of these can be found here: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Lullaby-Trust-Safer-Sleep-Advice-For-Premature-Babies.pdf
It is really important that parents get this information because there is a higher risk of SIDS for babies born premature (37 weeks or less) or with a low birthweight (less than 2.5kg /5.5llb).
Specific guidance on Safer Sleep and twins can be found in the Premature Babies leaflet and also there is a fact sheet that can be given to parents, found here: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/twins/
See the statistics of neonatal care here: [CP1]https://www.bliss.org.uk/research-campaigns/neonatal-care-statistics
To read other advice from professionals, click here.