Having a premature baby is already incredibly difficult, stressful and upsetting, but during the pandemic, things have been even tougher for many families.
New research by Pampers has found that, as a result of Covid restrictions, some parents have been allowed to spend as little as two hours a day with their tiny, and sometimes very poorly, babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU). The Pampers survey - of parents whose babies have received neonatal care since March - found almost two-thirds (63%) felt more isolated due to restrictions, while 79% found their mental health deteriorated.
So, Pampers has joined forces with premature baby charity Bliss (bliss.org.uk) and vCreate - an in-hospital secure video messaging service - in a campaign supported by Tana Ramsay, to help parents of preemie babies stay connected with their newborns and neonatal unit staff, by funding tablets and WiFi dongles for neonatal wards.
Ramsay (46) now has five children with celebrity chef Gordon, but understands only too well the impact prematurity can have. Their preterm twins, Jack and Holly, spent a week in intensive care, and two weeks in a special care unit after they were born at 33 weeks, on Millennium Eve 1999.
Ramsay stresses how hard it must be for parents who can't be with their new babies due to pandemic restrictions...
What do you remember of Holly and Jack's time in hospital?
"Once they were stabilised they had wires attached to them, because they were on ventilators at the very beginning. At that stage you can't pick them up easily, and to be honest, I was absolutely terrified to because they were so tiny and I was just worried I was going to knock a wire or hurt them, because their skin is very, very delicate at that age as well.
"Within a few days, when they were off the ventilator and they had feeding tubes, then I was encouraged to hold them and lay them on my chest. I was very keen to breastfeed them and skin-to-skin contact and holding your baby (can) help everything like that in the first few days. We were very lucky in that we could have access to them and I could partake in a lot of their care, see the staff and be reassured and have contact with the babies. I think that's what's so hard at the moment, as that's not the case for parents in the same position as we were."
It's not just mums who want to see their babies, is it?
"After we had the twins, Gordon would have been allowed as much access as me, but we had a toddler at home that he was in charge of (their daughter Megan). When grandparents could take over he was there, and one of the things we were told is holding the babies and skin-on-skin contact is so important for fathers at that stage as well. It's incredibly hard for everyone.
"It's important to let siblings also have access to seeing their new baby brother or sister.
"It's a very anxious time for them as well - mum's gone from having a baby in her tummy to not being able to be with the baby. It's very unnerving for everyone. Similarly, (now) grandparents aren't able to see new grandchildren sometimes because they have to self-isolate or be protected."
Why support Pampers' new initiative?
"It's about helping parents to see their baby - contact through technology is absolutely vital at the moment.
"The baby might just be lying in an incubator, but that visual contact is so important, and to see what staff might be doing, like changing a nappy or changing the feeding tubes, and talking about things like the baby's weight gain. Sometimes, when you've got that visual access, it's very reassuring if you can't be there yourself."
You have five children, including 18-month-old Oscar. What have you learned about pregnancy?
"Every pregnancy is so different, and you never know what's round the corner. I think pregnancy itself is a very worrying time for some. I bounced through pregnancies with no issues at all, and (then) before I had our youngest, Oscar, I lost a baby at 20 weeks. It can be a hugely emotional, devastating time, yet it can bring you the most joy."
For every pack of Pampers nappies and nappy pants bought on ASDA.com before January 5, and in Asda stores December 9-January 5, Pampers will make a donation to Bliss. For every social media share using #PampersforPreemies November 17-December 31, Pampers will fund the donation of a tablet or WiFi dongle to neonatal units through vCreate