Supporting families with a baby on NNU

Date: 23/02/2023

Having a baby who requires admission to the neonatal unit can be a worrying and confusing time for new parents. Most parents don’t imagine that their baby will be admitted to the Neonatal Unit, whether it is their first experience of parenting or if they have already have other children to care for. Here at Milton Keynes University Hospital, we believe that supporting families is as important as caring for their babies on NNU. In addition to nursing support, we now have a qualified neonatal family counsellor to give parents the opportunity to talk through how they are feeling, signposting them to other support if needed.

Jan Clift has a degree in counselling but also has many years of extensive experience in neonatal nursing. Jan spent the last 14 years in Milton Keynes as a neonatal community sister, supporting parents both clinically and emotionally after the families had brought their babies home, once leaving the Neonatal Unit.

‘Parents have many different reactions when their baby is taken to the Neonatal Unit. All these feelings are quite normal,’ explains Jan, who works on the unit every Monday and Wednesday.  ‘They can range from feeling, shocked and numb, to overwhelmed and helpless in the face of so many uncertainties, even guilt that their baby had to be admitted to the Neonatal Unit. It is understandably a very exhausting time, especially when parents are recovering from the birth as well. They often don’t know exactly what will happen or what to expect and that can be a scary and overwhelming time.’

Jan’s support to new parents is informal to begin with as she has found that works best. ‘I introduce myself at the cot side when they are with their babies so we can get to know each other, and I can learn a little bit more about their experience. Many parents become very familiar to our staff here as their babies can be in for quite some time, so it is a great way to build rapport and check in on how they are feeling,’ says Jan.

If she feels it would help, and if parents agree, she can also signpost them to other services. In the future, she also hopes to be able to offer counselling sessions for parents who feel they might benefit from a more structured approach.

‘Ultimately, we hope that having a family counsellor on the unit will mean that parents feel supported and have a greater understanding of their feelings and emotions that they experience because of their baby being care for by the neonatal team.’