Zambia is full of amazing people and amazing challenges, and a tiny square of hope and love can make all of the difference.
This picture is the bonding squares made by all of those contributing to Fiona’s charity.
These will calm the babies plus more, and provide care as if Fiona is right there sitting with the mum or with the baby in the neonatal unit in Zambia.
My official work here in Zambia is with the Ministry of Health, working with the Directors to help them create a cunning plan to improve the quality of healthcare. I am a nurse on a six-month volunteer placement here, taking a career break from a senior leadership role in NHS England.
I have been a nurse since the 1980s and have worked and cared in many ways, as a strategic system leader, and as a person who knows that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference. This blog is about one of the personal things for the smallest babies where a simple solution can make the biggest difference. This is what Fiona was about, holding that baby in that moment and making the difference they needed.
So alongside my Government work, there is another cunning plan. Our charity, Fiona Foundation for Kids, is a key part of my life and, wherever I am working, I seek out something that Fiona, my sister, would have loved to do.
As a foster mum for babies in the UK and a special needs teacher, Fiona gave her love to many children, especially those who were in need of additional support and not able to get it. She would have done the same here.
Here in Zambia, I am working with amazing doctors and nurses who are volunteering to help improve the care available and the quality of life for babies born too early or too chaotically and in dire circumstances.
If Fiona were here in Zambia, she would have noticed that the sickest newborn babies were sometimes very distressed. She would have made sure that they were made to feel safe and soothed so that they stopped crying.
She would have wanted to do something so that the mothers could offer some cuddles even though they could not pick up their baby.
She would have wanted to do something about the 25% of babies who would not make it out of special care and sadly die.
She would have wanted to make sure that even though there are four babies to every incubator and 100 babies in the unit that is built for 40 babies, and that there is only one nurse to ten babies, that every baby felt loved.
What are we doing to help as well as the government work and the medical and nursing care?
Dr Aoife Hurley, a UK based Paediatrician, and Rachael Talbot, a UK nurse, are colleagues of mine and are working in the Neo Natal Unit of the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka.
Aoife bought a bag of 20 bonding squares with her to see if these would help the babies settle. They worked. They worked so well that others asked for them, with mums asking if they were free. Yes, they are.
So we needed some more, maybe 1000!!! There are 100 babies in the unit each day, so this is not as unreasonable as it seems.
A call to the Fiona Foundation for Kids supporters who wish to care as if she was there went out, and the bonding squares came in. We have 100 so far which will fill the unit next week. We will also see if we can support the mums to make their own.
How do they work?
“Bonding squares are used in Neonatal units in the UK as a way of helping mums bond with their babies. It is a small square of knitted wool that the mum places next to her skin for a time, so her scent is then on the square. This square is then left next to the baby.
The idea is the baby smells mum’s scent even when she isn’t there or cannot remove them from the incubator. The mum can then take the square home and smell the baby’s scent on the square, which can be of comfort to her and also helps with milk production. The scent of the baby triggers hormones needed to produce and express milk. This is important because breast milk is vital for premature infants, breastfeeding is more difficult with premature infants, and hopefully, this reduces the need for formula milk, which is an additional expense.
It is a small way to try to improve a stressful situation for parents on the Neonatal unit. A way for us to help support them, acknowledging the importance of their role and the parental bond that already exists.
When I came to Zambia, I was fortunate to have been given a bag full of these squares, which were distributed quickly amongst mothers who seemed to really appreciate them and their meaning.” Dr Aoife Hurley UK based Paediatrician
Each square will allow a baby to feel as if its mother is there with them and make them feel safe. Each square will care as if Fiona too is there.
If you would like to help, please contact us via social media or via our website. Just start making a square! It needs to be about the size of an adult’s hand.
Nurses care in many places and in many ways. Making stuff happen, such as this project is one of them. When you do not have enough nurses, you need to adapt, and this is one way that works.
Thank you for your support.