Tag Archives: Postnatal depression

NEW! – “Preemie Proud” Red Book Stickers

Every year 80,000 babies are born requiring specialist neonatal care services in the UK. Their parents face a turbulent journey, often physically and emotionally exhausting and for many it is a journey that will have a lasting impact. I have written about my own experiences as a preemie mum, raising awareness through The Smallest Things campaign about a journey that rarely ends at the NICU doors.

You find yourself waiting to see the health visitor, waiting to have your little bundle weighed.

Sitting in line, waiting your turn, you could be mistaken for any other new mum – a mum who has recently given birth, a mum holding their new baby close.

And yet you’re not a new mum; you gave birth months ago and your ‘new’ baby has already been around the block. You’re already a pro at changing nappies (albeit through incubator portholes) and you have had weeks and months more sleeplessness nights in the bag.

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You remind the health visitor that your baby was born early and as they go to chart their weight you gently remind them about plotting their weight according to their corrected age.

Your baby is 10 weeks old – “Are they smiling yet?” they ask. You shake your head, you’ve been asked this question before.

“He hasn’t reached his due date yet” you reply.

They may not be smiling yet, but your baby has just doubled their birth weight… that’s pretty awesome!

“How are you getting on?” they ask.
“Okay,” you reply quickly, afraid that if you linger on the subject you may break down and cry.

How can you explain that every time you pass a heavily pregnant woman you feel a pang of jealously?

How can you explain that you are still grieving for the loss of your third trimester, the loss of the first precious hold, the loss of a ‘normal birth’ and the loss of weeks, if not months, of your maternity leave?

Do you open up about the flash backs, the worry, the guilt and exhaustion?

How do you begin to explain the pain of having to leave your baby every day.

Smallest Things

As a sympathetic nod to the journey you have been on, a well-meaning health visitor notes that “NICU must have been hard, ….but you’re home now”.

This plays into the common misconception that once you are discharged home from neonatal care your NICU journey is behind you; but for parents of premature babies this is far from the truth.  For instance, we know that 40% of mothers who spend time in NICU experience post-natal depression, (compared to 5-10% of mothers who deliver with no complications at full term); and that more than half of mothers report symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder once their baby is home.

Health visitors, with their specific training, are in a unique position to support the families of babies born prematurely. That is why The Smallest Things are delighted to be launching our new “Preemie Proud” Red Book initiative; a series of stickers that families can use to personalise their baby’s red book. Stickers that will act as a gentle reminder that this mum has been through NICU and may need some more support. Stickers that provide a prompt to use a babies corrected age on their growth chat; and stickers that can form the basis of an initial conversation about the lasting needs following neonatal intensive care.

 

 

 

mumsnet

Launching! Recognising the Mental Health needs of NICU parents

images (1)And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in”.

Haruki Murakami

Parents shouldn’t have to weather the NICU storm alone. Yet we know, after discharge from hospital, many of them do.

That is why The Smallest Things is launching a new mental health campaign, addressing directly the lack of understanding among primary healthcare professionals of the mental health needs of parents after premature birth.

Having a baby in neonatal care can test you to your very limits. The uncertainty, the shock; the highs and the lows.

As your body recovers from the physical realities of birth, your mind tries to piece together the medical world that surrounds you. People would often ask how I managed to get through our time in Neonatal Intensive Care; “You must have been so strong”, people would say, “You must have been so brave”. The truth is I was neither of these things. Like thousands of parents, I simply had no other choice.

Lost in a sea of emotions, the rituals of NICU soon took over. Expressing, traveling, incubator nappy changes, kangaroo care and hours and hours of watching and waiting. Your life becomes neonatal care and in the agony of leaving my baby each day I would turn to the advice of Piglet and Pooh – “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” AA Milne.

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The sun was shining on the day we left the hospital and I still remember the feelings of relief and hope for the future. The days of NICU would soon become a distant memory – or so I thought.

I quickly came to realise that our journey as prem parents had only just begun, only now the safety net of the neonatal unit and of other NICU parents who ‘got it’ had gone.

Questions about how I’d had made it through NICU became redundant – I’d made it this far because I had to. But I was still battling; just about holding on, trying to make sense of all that had happened. Rather than well-meaning comments from my health visitor such as “I bet you’re glad you’re home” and “it must have been difficult” (as well as other ill-informed comments about expressing, breast feeding and corrected ages), I was crying out for someone who understood. Someone who knew and would tell me that the overwhelming emotions of grief, loss, guilt and jealously, the anger, the anxiety and worry were completely normal for a NICU mum.

PREM

The support for parents following neonatal intensive care is limited and The Smallest Things have received countess examples of where primary health care professionals such as GP’s and health visitors simply do not understand the needs of premature babies and their families. And yet, we know that more than 40% of mothers go onto experience post-natal depression following NICU, and that more than 50% show signs of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. More must be done.

In launching our new mental health campaign, The Smallest Things will call for GP’s and Health Visitors to be trained to recognise and support the needs of parents following neonatal care. Will you help to raise awareness too?

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SIGN NOW! https://www.change.org/p/the-nursing-and-midwifery-council-gps-and-health-visitors-please-recognise-the-mental-health-needs-of-nicu-parents?recruiter=83525408&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

The hidden cost of NICU | Write to your MP today!

On Wednesday 9th December MPs will take part in an opposition day debate in the House of Commons to discuss Mental Health.

The Smallest Things campaigns regularly for more awareness and better access to psychological support following the premature birth of a baby and we know how important this issue is to our supporters.

I have written to my local MP, asking them to attend to take part in the debate and hope you will do the same.

Please feel free to use any part of the letter below.

You can find how to contact your local MP by clicking and entering your Postcode here.

 Dear Mr Reed MP,

I am writing to ask you to attend the forthcoming opposition day debate on mental health with regards to PTSD, the hidden cost of NICU.

When my son was born we weren’t ready. He wasn’t ready.

Born 10 weeks early, he spent an anxious 8 weeks in neonatal intensive care; a stressful environment where parents following the traumatic birth of their babies watch over incubators day-by-day. It is an uncertain and alien world full of breathing machines and beeping monitors. It is a medical and clinical world where you find life at its most fragile.

Not surprisingly mothers of babies born too soon there is a greater risk of post natal depression, with as many as 70% report symptoms of post traumatic stress and anxiety in the aftermath of a premature birth.

Yet in their 2015 baby report, Bliss reveal that 41% of neonatal units have no access to a trained mental health worker and that nearly a third of units offer no psychological support at all.

Parents of some of the smallest and fragile babies need more support, not only during their hospital stay, but also in the months and years that follow.

I, and parents like me, would be grateful if you could highlight the very specific, but often unmet needs of families of premature babies in the forthcoming opposition day debate on Mental Health – Wednesday 9th December.

For more information, please see PTSD: The Hidden Cost of NICU

With best wishes,

Catriona

ST reception

 

Time to Talk: PTSD the hidden cost of NICU

#TimetoTalk

I saw a post last year; it simply said “PTSD – The hidden cost of having a premature baby?”

Nothing can prepare you for parenthood, but you allow yourself to imagine the arrival of your baby; those first precious holds, taking them home to meet loved ones, the time together to grow and bond – and then suddenly everything you imagined is dramatically replaced with the alien and uncertain world of neonatal intensive care.

seeing our son for the first time

seeing our son for the first time

It is widely reported that parents who’ve spent time with their babies in neonatal care are a greater risk of developing anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some studies suggest that it affect as many as 70% mothers following NICU and given the nature of NICU this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yet this is a topic that remains relatively unspoken about and more importantly there are limited, and in some areas no resources dedicated to it.

PTSD can have a significant to severe impact upon every day life; from re-experiencing or re-living events with often negative thoughts, by avoiding or becoming nub, to the feeling of being constantly on edge with anxiety and physical symptoms such as headaches, feeling nauseous or becoming light headed. I remember the first time I felt panicked and sick with PTSD, I was returning to the neonatal unit for the routine 4 week follow up review. Walking into the hospital I could hear and feel the sound of my heart pounding in my head; I could hear the beeps of machines and if I closed my eyes all I could see were wires. I felt sick to the bottom of my stomach and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

PSTD often presents itself after the acute phase of neonatal care; once you have left the claustrophobic confines of the unit and when the beeping of machines should be far behind you. The support network of the hospital can disappear over night and you are left to wonder how on earth you made it through. Family and friends may assume that the difficult times are behind you and accessing the usual mum and baby groups for support can be a struggle in itself. I’ve written before about answering the dreaded “how old is your baby” question . You try to explain prematurity, corrected ages and what being in NICU was like, but find you are greeted with perhaps good-willed, but often insensitive remarks such as “I could never have left my baby in the hospital” or “At least you didn’t have to go through proper labour”.

By the way, if you’d like to know what not to say to the mother of a premature baby, then check out our Top Ten here.

smallest thingsRather than being a supportive environment, mothers of premature babies can find the usual routes of seeking support closed to them. These exchanges can exacerbate negative feelings and bring back painful memories – I personally struggled to listen to others speaking about how they couldn’t put their new baby down, when all I would see was many tiny baby so far removed from me in his incubator. In addition many mums will not have the option to go out and seek help, finding themselves literally isolated during the winter months when their baby is still too fragile to be exposed to the cough and cold season.

The Smallest Thing campaign is seeking to raise awareness, not just within the general public, but also to the team of health visitors who will often make that first contact. Tommy’s have developed a brilliant Wellbeing Plan endorsed by NICE which helps women and health care professions to discuss mental health. With the knowledge that mothers have a significantly grater risk of developing mental health difficulties if they have had baby in neonatal intensive care we are calling on all health visitors to use the Wellbeing Plan or similar tools to discuss mental and emotional well being early on in the posy NICU journey.

Finally, mental health and the well being of others should be everyone’s business. NICU remains a mysterious and unknown place to those who have not lived it and for that reason perhaps it isn’t immediately obvious to see a link between time in NICU and PTSD. Raising awareness and speaking honestly about our experience and the true realities of neonatal care is therefore crucial:

Of the uncertainly and unknown. The panic that sets in when your baby is not in their incubator space when you arrive, have they been moved – is the news good of bad?

Of the physical pain at having to leave your new born everyday. The feelings of emptiness and loss.

Of the ups and downs; the lines, wires, monitors and alarms.

Of the hot, close, claustrophobic environment.

The security buzzers at the entrance and of the constant rigorous hand washing.

Feeling watched as you attend to the simplest of cares such as changing a nappy – of struggling with the simplest of cares such as changing a nappy!

And the feelings of guilt, jealousy, grief and loss that go hand-in-hand and in stark contrast to the feelings of joy, anticipation and hope.

I will always be a NICU mum; and PTSD will always be lurking around the corner.