Parents of neonatal unit babies 'need psychological support'

Image source, Kim Williams
Image caption,
Caio stopped growing in the womb at 26 weeks and was born at 30 weeks

The mother of a premature baby has called for more awareness of the psychological impact of being a parent to a child on a neonatal unit.

Kim Williams, 38, from Pwllheli, Gwynedd, gave birth to Caio 10 weeks early in 2017.

She said she was not offered psychological help while staying at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Caio's nurses had to support her.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board said it prioritised parents' mental health.

Ms Williams said both hospitals' neonatal units - which look after premature and unwell newborns - were "brilliant", with nurses giving her emotional support during her seven-week stay.

"They had time for you - they would listen to me cry, or if I was worried about Caio or didn't understand something they were awfully good," she said.

"But I don't remember being offered any psychological help while I was there until I got home and saw the health visitor and she felt I should speak to someone."

Image caption,
Caio, now two, at a baby group his mother set up for him

When Ms Williams was 30 weeks pregnant, she was told Caio had not grown in the womb since her last scan four weeks earlier and was not moving as much as he should.

"It's just a massive whirlwind, one day everything's going smoothly and then, crash," she told S4C's Newyddion 9 programme.

Ms Williams said she "shut people out" while she was in hospital, not accepting many visitors, adding: "We were in this bubble, just me and him."

She initially blamed herself for Caio's problems - because she was ill while she was pregnant - and said the period in the neonatal unit continued to affect her.

"It's had a massive impact on all of our family," Ms Williams said.

"All the children are worried about Caio catching a cold or being ill or if he falls, anything. I think because he was so fragile for so long, everyone thinks he's still like this tiny little baby.

"I don't go out to socialise as much as I used to because I think so many 'no's' you can say to people... I had to make sure my baby was OK. It was my priority to look after him."

Image caption,
Kim Williams says she pushed people away while spending seven weeks in hospital with Caio

Ms Williams has since set up a baby group to help Caio, who will be three in July, to socialise and handle germs.

The Welsh Government said psychological support should be available for all parents with a child in neonatal care - but research from the charity Bliss showed it was only available in five of 11 units in Wales, with nurses instead taking on the responsibility.

Every year about 35,000 babies are born in Wales, and about 10% will be cared for in neonatal units - with their parents 40% more likely to experience post-natal depression.

A Betsi health board spokeswoman said staff on its three units worked with families as a matter of course to ensure their needs were assessed and met.

Psychologist Mair Edwards said parents often did not understand whether they could hold or comfort their babies, or even how to do so.

As well as the benefit for families, she said specialised psychological support was important for staff to help avoid "burnouts" from the workload.

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