Donations to the Royal Free Charity have enabled staff on Starlight neonatal unit at Barnet Hospital to help parents keep in touch with their babies despite visiting restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Currently either mothers or fathers can visit Starlight neonatal unit for two hours a day, as long as they don’t have symptoms of Covid 19, whereas usually they have 24-hour access.

“Parents are at the centre of their babies’ care in the neonatal unit,” said Elaine McMahon, clinical specialist neonatal occupational therapist. “This not only supports relationships, bonding and connection but also developmental care, which has a lifelong influence on the baby and their family.”

They asked the charity to buy a stock of toys which not only play music but also allow parents to record a message so the baby can hear the parents’ voices.

“As the parent’s voice has a powerful role in supporting connection, familiarity and development for our pre-term infants, the use of toys to record and play the parent’s voice is one important way we can preserve this essential connection during the pandemic,” said Elaine.

Another key sensory experience for babies and families is smell. “We have been increasing the number of knitted squares we give families. The parents are asked to wear the square to add their scent and this is kept with the baby on the unit.

“Mothers have told us that this, along with the videos that we create of the babies have been invaluable in helping them express their milk.”

Kunka Berberova, mother of a newborn on the ward, said: “I just want to say a big THANK YOU, I have no words to describe, there is so much care given, you all care so much.”