September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month
September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month
September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month

September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month

Ickle Pickles provides NICU Peer Support

Awareness Day

September is NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Awareness Month and the 18th of September is also NICU Mental Health Awareness Day. To raise awareness of mental health, especially for families who have been through the neonatal journey, we want to highlight our work on providing Peer Support. 

Having a baby is often a momentous and joyous experience. But having a baby requiring a stay on a neonatal unit can be extremely stressful; for babies, parents and their families. 

Exacerbated by Covid with significant restrictions imposed, the pressure on parents was immense. Usually, only one parent was allowed at the cot side at a time. The requirement of having to wear a mask at all times meant that parents were not able to bond with their babies in the usual way. Skin-to-skin contact was restricted and babies were not able to see their parents, feel their skin or hear their heartbeat. It is understandable that both parents and babies suffered and were more anxious. In addition, parents were not able to draw on the support of other parents due to restrictions on social interaction and distancing rules. While the full impact on NICU families is still unknown, it has resulted in neonatal units providing more mental health support. Neonatal units have introduced Peer Support and recruited both psychologists and psychotherapists to help parents deal with stress, anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

The Ickle Pickles Children’s Charity is committed to working with a number of neonatal units to provide NICU Peer Support. We run and attend regular Coffee Mornings so that past and present NICU parents can share their experiences in a relaxed and non-judgemental environment. 

We have found that one of the few benefits of being in neonatal care is developing friendships with other parents and finding support through peers. However, restrictions in hospitals meant this was not possible during COVID. We hope our coffee mornings bridge a gap and bring people together, providing a safe place to support each other.

Together, we aim to reduce barriers to support and share our experiences. We help families along their neonatal journey and reassure them that they are not alone. We also offer support after discharge, by way of running monthly coffee mornings where everyone is welcome and which are also free to attend. 

Our free coffee mornings were already popular pre-COVID because parents could take their babies and have the opportunity to chat with other NICU parents who had been through a similar experience.

Once again, meeting in a comfortable, inclusive environment without any judgments about their babies, especially those with health issues or special needs, has proven to be invaluable to many families. They share tips and advice but also offer friendship and a shoulder to cry on if needed. 

Julie, Ickle Pickles' Head of Peer Support, loves to help at peer support groups and coffee mornings because we know that they make a real difference to NICU families: they can ease anxieties, combat loneliness and isolation and improve mental well-being. If you are interested in becoming a NeoHero and volunteering at one of our coffee mornings, please email her at [email protected].

Larresha, a Croydon Peer Support Group member shares that she “wanted to be part of a peer support group as, due to Covid, we did not have that sort of support and I want to make sure any new parent to the unit does not feel lost.”

“I love being part of the peer support group as it allows me to be part of a fantastic support system for parents now going through similar experiences.” You can read the story of Larresha’s baby and find out more here.

We hope you will join us at our next coffee morning for useful advice on your neonatal journey and support after NICU.

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