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IWK offers support for parents of premature babies

HALIFAX – For parents, having a premature baby can be a scary and daunting experience.

To help them cope, the IWK Health Centre along with parents who have gone through preterm births want to make sure new parents don’t feel alone.

“When I had them…I was discharged from the hospital and that was very hard. Leaving, knowing that my babies weren’t coming with me,” said Natasha Skinner.

Her twin daughters, Denaya and Damara, were born three months premature.

Damara weighed 1 lb. 15 oz and her sister was only a few ounces heavier. They spent the first five months of their lives at the IWK’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“Honestly, [I] didn’t want to touch them. They were so tiny, they were so dainty. They seemed so fragile at the time,” said their father, Blair Skinner.

“Just seeing all the wires and the hook-ups…they were in the incubator. You know, that can be a very overwhelming experience.”

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One in 10 babies is born premature, or at least 10 weeks before its due date, according to the World Health Organization. The IWK estimates 120-140 babies are born prematurely in Nova Scotia each year.

To mark World Prematurity Day, the hospital invited the Skinners to share their story with other expectant parents and medical staff.

Neonatal nurse practitioner Marsha Campbell-Yeo says it’s important to mark the day because it raises awareness about the prevalence of preterm births.

“This is a significant impact, not just on their immediate care or for the babies, but really long-term,” she said. “We know that being born preterm requires intensive medical care, which is provided here at the IWK, but it’s really incumbent on us that their long-term development is really improved.”

Campbell-Yeo is also a professor at Dalhousie University, and is researching ways parents can relieve stress and pain in at-risk newborns. That includes skin-to-skin contact with parents.

“Having parents involved in their babies’ care is really a win-win situation,” she said. “We really have shown scientifically that it makes major improvements in the babies’ behavioural pain response as well as their long-term outcomes.”

Blair Skinner agrees parents play a big role in the development of premature babies, and he’s proud of the progress the twins have made.

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Denaya still needs oxygen at night, but otherwise, the 15-month-olds are developing normally.

Their father hopes their success story will give hope to other parents.

“As a parent, you think that you’re the only one going through it or you’re the only one who ever went through it, but that’s not the case,” he said.