Rockhampton Special Care Nursery provides innovative support for premmie babies and their families

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Since 2020 the nursing team at the Rockhampton Hospital Special Care Nursery (SCN) has been actively supporting one of Australia’s leading charities, Life’s Little Treasures Foundation (LLTF), and providing help to families of premmie babies through a number of engagement and fund raising activities.

Life’s Little Treasures Foundation is dedicated to providing practical support, information and assistance to families of babies born prematurely or sick. Founded in 2005 by parents who had experienced this first-hand, LLTF aims to ensure that all families enduring the difficult and life-changing experience of having a premature or sick baby have easy access to critical information and community support. LLTF services are available in NICU and special care nurseries and in the community when families come home. 

Rockhampton Hospital SCN has been involved in one of LLTF’s key events, the Little Read-a-Thon, since 2020. The program was introduced to encourage NICU and Special Care Nurseries to find creative ways to promote the joy of reading within their individual unit. Since it’s inception the initiative has spread widely and this year 41 Australian hospitals, and 14 international hospitals including units in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand, USA and Canada participated.

In Rockhampton, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Maxine Ballinger, and Clinical Midwife, Ashleigh Smith coordinated this year’s activities.

“As nursing staff caring for our small patients, it is important to encourage our parents to be involved with the care of their babies, and reading is one of the ways they can do this. Reading to babies every day supports development not only during their time in the NICU or SCN, but also going into early infancy and childhood. Babies enjoy hearing their parents voice over any other sound, but what more important is that it an activity that parents can do every day during a time when many feel helpless in an intense and stressful environment.

“Reading to children is linked to improved language and writing abilities when children are of school age, so it is never too early to start,” Ms Ballinger said.

Starting a new tradition, SCN staff last year hosted a “baby dress-up” day to celebrate the end of the Read-a-Thon. The parents were very enthusiastic about the read-a-thon and the dress up day, with Little Mermaids, Hungry Caterpillars, Where’s Wally, Mickey and Mini Mouse and Harry Potter costumes organised by the SCN team.

“It was one of those fantastic night duty ideas that come to you at 3.00 in the morning. For staff it was a little bit of fun in what had been a long journey for these families, and with little family around them due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Ms Ballinger said.

This year the SCN team created a themed event, with Australian animal costumes crocheted by Ms smith, and Clinical Coach, Melanie Hankinson. “Ashleigh was our fearless crocheter of costumes last year, and Melanie joined the ranks this year by teaching herself how to crochet. Now that is dedication and an amazing duo!” Ms Ballinger said.

A dedicated photo booth and a decorated nursery were done in an Australian bush theme of gum trees, leaves and nuts, with creative contributions by Karen Patrick (Advanced Enrolled Nurse), RN Charlotte Lawrie. 

“The whole event was a team effort by all staff, some become amateur photographers and interior decorators,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith said that the LLTF Read-a-Thon is a great way to draw the team together and have and add more enjoyment to the work environment. “It was nice to watch the parents’ proud faces when they see their baby’s photos, making all the hours spent crocheting well worth it. 

“Melanie and I have always been passionate about reading, and it gives us a sense of satisfaction to be able to share a little of our enthusiasm with the next generation of parents and their babies,” Ms Smith said.

This year the Rockhampton Hospital Special Care Nursery was awarded the “The Best Dressed Unit, Special Care Nursery” and received an amazing supply of reading books for the babies and their parents/carer.

The Australian animals and gumnut theme will continue this year into Rockhampton SCN’s Christmas activities. 

“The babies are going to be so cute,” MS Ballinger said.

On top of the Read-a-Thon activities, the Nursery also participated in the LLTF Walk-a-Thon, raising their target of $50 to donate to the Foundation.