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Holding your newborn baby in your arms will never be quite as precious as it is right now in the Royal’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). New restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean no visitors are allowed – not even the siblings or grandparents of newborns.

Neonatologist Dr Tim Schindler has been working in the NICU for a decade. He knows what an enormously stressful time it already is for parents as they hover over their babies clinging to life. Now their long and gruelling journey is being made even more difficult by the health measures put into place in recent weeks meaning only the parents, and NICU staff are allowed to watch over their tiny charges.

“Normally, it’s really beneficial for the parents to be able to invite grandparents and siblings to visit and to share the journey with them. The babies can be here for months, and it can be a very distressing and frustrating time for parents – it can be a real emotional roller coaster,” Dr Schindler said. “Now they will feel much more alone in an incredibly intense and vulnerable time.”

The Royal Hospital for Women Foundation is working closely with the NICU on using technology to deliver better access for parents and familiesBy making a one-off or regular donation to The Royal you can help families in the NICU through this challenging time.

Shoalhaven couple Emma and Ryan Cross are experiencing first-hand what it’s like to have a premature baby as the nation moves towards a total shutdown. Their baby boy Ted was born at The Royal at 28 weeks on March 20th when Emma was transferred from Shoalhaven Hospital. Ted was transferred to the NICU where he remains on breathing support, a feeding tube and is undergoing photo therapy for jaundice. 

“We understand completely why the new measures are in place, but they do make us feel more alone,” says 32-year-old Emma. “We’re in a place where I can’t even pick up and cuddle my baby when I want to, so not having family around to hug and talk to adds to the emotional stress.

While Ted is receiving around-the-clock care, The Royal is supporting Emma, a dietician, and Ryan, a navy pilot, by subsidising their accommodation at a nearby lodge. They’re already missing their families terribly, and are sending them photos of Ted every day.

“One of the hardest things for staff is not being able to show our care for the families the way we did before,” Dr Schindler said. “Our interactions with parents are far more limited now. It’s really difficult not to reach out and shake the hand of someone who has just had a baby, or whose baby has reached an important milestone. But these social distancing measures are extremely important to protect mothers and babies."

According to a social worker at The Royal, the current health crisis is causing “overwhelming anxiety” to some families with premature babies, especially those who are already in financial distress.

One family has been plunged into turmoil when, in the process of moving out of Sydney and having given up the lease on their apartment, the mother went into premature labour. The Royal was able to help them find temporary accommodation while their baby was in the NICU as well as providing them with meals and Coles vouchers for basic supplies.

Another family had to move house as their home was too small and was contaminated with mould, a dangerous situation with premature baby twins with fragile lungs. But due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the father has now lost his job, and the family is in a dire financial situation.

Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, both parents were able to visit and hold their vulnerable babies.Baby Ted was born at 28 weeks. Now his parents Emma and Ryan are not able to hold their little boy

Currently, there are 44 beds in The Royal's Newborn Intensive Care Unit. At any one time up to one in five families will be from outside of Sydney. You can help support these families by making a one-off or regular donation to The Royal. This will help provide practical support such as grocery and accommodation vouchers for families when they need it most, and help keep families better connected during their journey through the NICU.

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