A new initiative has been launched by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) that encourages parents to give their babies “hand hugs” in an effort to simulate skin-to-skin contact.

The “Cuddle Bundle” scheme marks the celebration of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day and is being rolled out in the hope of aiding, both the prematurely born babies in UHP’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and their parents.

Alicia Regan, Paediatric Registrar, said: “There are a number of benefits for babies being cared for in the NICU having skin-to-skin contact. Evidence shows that having cuddles can help to stabilise a baby’s heart rate, respiratory rates and temperature. They can also help to improve sleep, breastfeeding and digestion, as well as aid growth and development and reduce pain.

“For babies who are too unwell to come out of the incubator, we encourage contact through ‘hand hugs’, whereby a parent gently places their hands over their baby's head and then either cups baby's feet or places their hands lightly over baby's torso with arms and legs in a flexed position.

“This touch provides great comfort to baby and helps parents to feel that sense of closeness.”

In conjunction with this new initiative new posts are being created at UHP, with the introduction of two band seven nurses, who will be focused on supporting breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, as well as the general wellbeing of the babies in the NCIU.

Also as part of the initiative, a group of doctors and nurses have created a range of resources and educational videos, in the aim of giving parents and staff the confidence to safely handle prematurely born babies.

Roisin McKeon-Carter, Neonatal Nurse Consultant, said: “Understandably, in an intensive care environment, the main focus has to be on clinical care. That’s why these new roles are so important, as it will provide our staff with greater capacity to aid complementary care such as skin-to-skin, in addition to the support they already give to parents.

“It can be challenging when not all babies are stable enough to come out for cuddles, especially when connected to oxygen and feeding tubes, central lines and monitoring wires, but the team here are really innovative and do their best to find ways to make it work.

“Our staff regularly go above and beyond and it’s really clear that everyone wants what is best for both our patients and their families. I’m really proud of the team and how they are working collaboratively to champion skin-to-skin contact.”

More information about the new scheme is available here.

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