First Christmas for little 'fighter' Aimee eight months after premature birth
There will be extra reason for festive cheer in one Northern Ireland household as a baby born 10 weeks early reaches her first Christmas.
Little Aimee McCauley had to spend weeks in hospital after surprising her parents with a premature arrival earlier this year.
The tot, who weighed in at just 3lb 14 ounces in April, was so small she had to be given help to breath for the first few days of her life and was tube-fed for several weeks.
But her strength and determination has amazed doctors and now, aged eight months, she is fighting fit and ready for Santa.
Mother Fiona McCauley said: "Premature babies just look like they will break if you touch them. They are so fragile and their skin is so thin, it looks like it could just tear.
"But they are much stronger than they look.
"For someone so small, Aimee did very well. We were very lucky.
"She was tube-fed for the first few weeks and then she had to learn to take the bottle before she could be allowed home.
"But for the most part, she just had to grow."
Aimee is the second premature baby for the McCauley family from Londonderry.
Her older brother Dylan arrived at just 28 weeks, five years ago.
Mrs McCauley, a nurse, said: "Aimee was not due until mid-June.
"Because our son was premature, I was kind of paranoid that it might happen again, so I was being very careful and was very conscious of it.
"But, when I got past the 28-week stage, I was happier. Then, on Easter Sunday, my waters broke. I was just under 29 weeks and was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital for a week.
"Nothing happened, so they let me go home."
However, she returned to hospital a day later and little Aimee was born shortly after.
Juggling the uncertainties associated with a premature births and another child made the first few months tough.
Mrs McCauley said: "Aimee was doing great, but for us it was just the not knowing that made things hard.
"When babies are in the neo-natal units, there are so many things that can go wrong.
"You just don't know - there can be so many complications and things that can go wrong when they are born so early - there could be issues with her development and all sorts.
"You just don't know what's in front of you so we didn't like to look too far ahead."
Now, aged eight months, Aimee is already caught up in the excitement of Christmas.
"She is so alert and so nosey," said Mrs McCauley.
"She is amazed by the Christmas tree and all the lights. It's great to see her taking such an interest in it all.
"I think she's going to be a wee rascal. She is always smiling and happy and chats away to herself.
"She is so active - all she wants to do is bounce.
"Premature babies all just seem to be wee fighters.
"Nothing seems to bother them as they grow up because of what they've been through in the early days."
Last year, almost 2,000 babies spent time in Northern Ireland's seven neo-natal units.
Some arrived as early as 24 weeks and weighing as little as 1lb.
Volunteers from the charity TinyLife are in the wards to offer practical and emotional support to the parents of premature and sick babies through the family and support service.
TinyLife's hospital to home volunteer visitation service provides breast pumps, tiny gyms, baby massage and sensory sessions as well as family activities and support groups.
Mrs McCauley said: "TinyLife were amazing.
"I didn't have them first time around but the support I received with Aimee was just fantastic."
She has also paid tribute to the medical staff at Altnagelvin Hospital.
To donate to TinyLife, visit www.justgiving.co.uk/TinyLife.