‘There aren’t words for it’: What it’s like having a baby at 26 weeks

Dean and Lucy Beckett demonstrate kangaroo care (skin-to-skin contact) with their son Leo.

September 16 was just like any Monday for Cowra school teacher Lucy Beckett. There was no warning that the next day she would be urgently flown to Westmead Hospital, her world turned upside-down.

Two weeks later Lucy gave birth to her son Leo at just 26 weeks – three months shy of his due date and about one-third the weight of a full-term baby.

“It was a traumatic experience. The first few days was just a lot of doctors and a lot of information and paperwork,” Lucy said.

“There aren’t words for it. It was very frightening to not know if he would survive.”

Lucy went in early labour when Leo was at just 24 weeks gestation. He was born 15 days later.

Though he weighed barely more than one kilogram, Lucy and her husband Dean were able to hold Leo when he was just one week old thanks to the emphasis on kangaroo care at Westmead Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Kangaroo care is a special and safe way to hold your baby against your skin, like a joey in a kangaroo pouch.

The benefits for practising kangaroo care regularly include stabilising the baby’s heartrate and breathing, better sleeping, improved weight gain, and earlier breastfeeding. Evidence also shows it can lead to earlier discharge from hospital

For parents it helps reduce their stress and anxiety, improves bonding, and also helps mums to produce breastmilk.

NICU nurse Hannah Skelton with Lucy at the World Prematurity Day afternoon tea. Lucy and Leo were filmed for an educational video for staff.

Ahead of World Prematurity Day (November 17), NICU hosted an afternoon tea on Friday to officially launch the long-awaited kangaroo care guidelines

NICU nurse Hannah Skelton developed the policy over the past three years to ensure all staff had access to information that was backed by research and empowered them to make the best decision in each unique situation.

Over the next fortnight the NICU staff will have the opportunity to take part in education workshops involving simulation, where they learn the skills to be effective in facilitating kangaroo care for premature babies in hospital.

“We know kangaroo care is beneficial but you need to assess how suitable it is each day. So the aim of these guidelines is really to equip staff, answers their fears and concerns, and ensure they’re making decisions backed by evidence in order to guide the parents,” Hannah said.

“I love facilitating and witnessing the first cuddle between a mother and her premature child. It’s very emotionally rewarding. That’s why we’re all here; to provide good care for parents and bubs.”

Lucy said it was very important for her to be able to cuddle Leo as soon as possible.

She’s now able to hold him every day for hours at a time, and hopeful he will soon be able to breathe independently and be transferred to Orange Base Hospital.

“We’ve been here for two months and I’m missing home terribly. The magnificent social worker found accommodation for me and has helped me get financial support, but I’d like to be closer to home,” Lucy.

“But the beautiful doctors and nurses here have been fantastic with Leo.”

Read more about kangaroo care here.