England’s first specialised mental health neonatal peer support for pregnant families

Parents dealing with the shock and stress of a preterm or a seriously ill baby are now being offered expert mental health help to support them while their baby is being cared for.

Leo’s Neonatal, an award-winning regional charity which provides specialised mental health support for families who have preterm or sick babies, has launched a new service at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. The charity was founded by the mother of twin boys who were cared for by the team on the Trust’s special care baby unit. One of the boys, Leo, sadly died, prompting mum Lottie King to set up the charity to help support other parents.

Commissioned by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, Leo’s new pregnancy service will provide dedicated support to families whose babies require neonatal care. Support is also available for expectant families who have experienced a previous neonatal stay or loss.

It is the first specialist service of its kind in England and will provide an array of bespoke care to families, including dedicated peer support, counselling therapies, pregnancy relaxation and bespoke pregnancy journals.

Nicola Threadgold, lead midwife sonographer, said: “The aim of this partnership is to help reduce anxiety and worry for families.

“Having a seriously ill baby is an incredibly worrying time for a parent. Providing a targeted support service to compliment the work of our specialist preterm birth clinics can only help parents through this most difficult of times.”

Nicola Threadgold, lead midwife sonographer

Leo’s charity was set up after the sad death of Lottie King’s son Leo at just four hours old after a 24-week gestation. Leo’s twin brother Oska was born four days later and would go on to spend more than 100 days on the special care baby unit at the University Hospital of North Tees in 2015 before going home.

Lottie King said: “I set up Leo’s charity after realising the lack of mental health support for parents like me.

“We now help families across the region with specialised neonatal peer support and an array of targeted neonatal counselling support. We also run lots of sessions which families can attend such as swimming, messy play, yoga, massage, and sensory play groups.”

Leo’s Neonatal was awarded a Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award for its work in providing care and support for neonatal families during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the prime minister commending the charity: “The work that you do helps so many and is a wonderful tribute to Leo.”

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