When it was recommended to new parents Hannah and Nick Stenmark to read to their premature baby Jett at Royal North Shore Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) they could not find a book relating to their story.
Jett was born more than three months premature and spent 90 days in the NICU.
“It was not an easy ride – Jett had a hole in his heart, needed prolonged breathing support, was fed milk by a tube, had a testicular hernia, digestion issues, and his lung collapsed,” Hannah said.
“As we were about to go home, we discovered his retina was starting to detach due to his retinopathy and he needed urgent laser surgery to prevent him from going blind.”
When looking for books to read to Jett, Hannah and Nick could not find a book that related to their family’s journey in the NICU.
“There are very few books designed for this purpose, so we decided to write and illustrate our own called ‘Your little head start’,” Nick said.
“We have been there and know how hard it is. We hope our book helps parents feel connected to their child at a time when all hope feels lost.”
Over the next year, each family whose baby is cared for in the RNSH NICU will be gifted a copy of Hannah and Nick’s book to support them on their journey.
Clinical Professor Michael Nicholl who is the Clinical Director of Maternal, Neonatal and Women’s Health Network at Northern Sydney Local Health District said whilst advances in care for premature infants over the past several decades have improved survival, there are risks of subsequent language and reading difficulties.
“Prolonged stays in NICU can be highly stressful for parents, who are often anxious about how they can help their child,” he said.
“Research has found that reading to premature babies supports both brain and language development and provides vital exposure to language.