Every year approximately 10% of all babies are born premature (before 37 weeks gestation) in New Zealand. That’s one premature baby born every 90 minutes. There are also full-term babies whose condition or illness requires admission to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after they are born. In all, over 5,000 babies have a difficult to start life in New Zealand each year.
With premature birth, while sometimes there is a history, or a medical condition which may lead to premature birth, more often than not, a mother goes into premature labour with no warning. With full term babies, parents may know their baby is going to be born with a complication requiring admission to a NICU. In other circumstances, the complication becomes apparent once the baby is born.
There are five “Level 3” NICUs in New Zealand, in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. These NICUs admit and provide specialist care for the most premature and sickest babies.
Depending on the parents location in New Zealand and the current capacity of the five NICUs in New Zealand, parents may be flown at any time of the day or night to a different city from which they reside. They may be flown while in labour with little or no clean clothing nor time to organise accommodation.
All of these parents are thrust into a terrifying world where their much loved tiny (sick) baby, who they have just met, is surrounded by machines, beeps, alarms, wires, needles, doctors and nurses. The parents often feel helpless. While the birth of your baby is usually a joyous event, this is a traumatic and very stressful time and depending on the condition of the baby, the parents may be on this journey for a few days, a few weeks or many months.
Aside from the trauma and emotional stress of seeing their baby so sick, there are all the associated financial and logistical challenges, for example leave from employment, childcare for other children and often simply finding a place to sleep and the time to make a meal.
When families are dislocated from their homes and have to spend long hours in a foreign environment with little or no pastoral support (we know the clinical support is first class) this inevitably makes a very stressful journey.
Once a baby is well enough they are transferred to a “Level 2” Special Care Baby Unit, usually in the area in which the parents reside.
Thanks to the highly-talented and dedicated neonatal doctors and nurses, the youngest babies to survive premature birth in New Zealand have been born at 24 weeks gestation. We aim to provide support to the families of premature and sick full-term babies as they make their journey through neonatal intensive care, the transition home, and onwards.
We are committed to "Making a difficult start to life that little bit easier"
These objectives are delivered on in a range of different ways. To view a gallery of examples of our support, head to this Facebook gallery.
To read examples of The Neonatal Trust in action please check out our support.