Premature babies often require additional care, so they may be taken away from their parents shortly after birth to be looked after in a neonatal unit. In these circumstances, it can be difficult for parents to bond with their babies. In recognition of this, the theme of this year’s World Prematurity Day is ‘keeping parents and babies born too soon together’.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions meant that, in many hospitals, only one visitor was allowed at a time. With visitation time effectively cut in half, parents had limited time with their newborns, and families were not able to support each other on the wards. Not only can this make it more difficult for parents to bond with their babies, but it can also impact their ability to make informed decisions about healthcare.
Some forms of lifesaving neonatal care, such as kangaroo care, require skin-to-skin contact. While the requirement for hospital visitors to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) was an entirely appropriate public health measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19, policies around the use of PPE were often indiscriminate. Many parents were not able to touch or visit their babies without PPE, despite the recognised benefits of skin-to-skin contact.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic had to be swift, and the road to recovery will likely be long. But as we make policy decisions going forward, we need to keep the newly born members of our society in mind – ensuring that guidelines account for the unique needs of premature babies and their families.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.