Research reveals 77% of parents claim NICU experience most challenging time of their life

In Ireland each year approximately 4,500 babies are born premature, which is why this World Prematurity Day (today Thursday 17th November) WaterWipes is partnering with Irish Neonatal Health Alliance (INHA) and parents with experience of preterm births to share their unique stories and raise awareness of the hardship that parents face during this time.

Research released today by WaterWipes reveals that an alarming seven in 10 (77%) Irish parents of premature babies admitted into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) claim that the experience was the most challenging of their lives. A heart-breaking 67% of parents claimed they felt anxious to touch their baby for the first time, and half report to feeling scared (55%) and helpless (49%) throughout their journey.

Whilst the research showed interesting results from the birthing parent’s perspective, the survey also highlighted surprising insights into how the non-birthing partner coped throughout this experience. Over six in 10 (67%) birthing parents think their partners felt they were unable to help them during their stays in the NICU, whilst a startling 47% of birthing parents think their partner felt it was their fault their baby was in the NICU. Over half (55%) said their partner struggled to know how to support them during this time, and almost 7 in 10 (67%) report that the first few weeks after leaving the NICU was even more difficult than the NICU stay.

Whilst this is an extremely challenging time for parents, an overwhelming 81% said that the staff in NICU were supportive of their needs and helped them to cope better with their experience, and over 1 in 3 (37%) parents said that wiping their babies clean helped them build a bond with their baby when they were first home from the NICU.

These experiences will be familiar to many families, including Ireland based couple, Paul and Anne from Rathdrum in Wicklow, who gave birth to their baby daughter Sophia at a mere 25 weeks + 4 days after just 9 minutes of labour. Sophia spent 9 weeks in NICU followed by 10 weeks in Special Care Baby Unit, followed by 2 weeks in a paediatric hospital.  

On describing their experience, Paul said “When Anne, my wife, was first hospitalised, we didn’t know what was happening, if our baby was going to die, going to be damaged for life, going to be delivered early, or at full term. I found that I didn’t really notice how traumatic the whole experience was for me when it was happening. I suppose that I was in a sort of survival mode…I still had to work, the mortgage still had to be paid and our first daughter still had to be looked after.​ Sophia is now 10 and is a happy and healthy child! Looking back…it’s very clear what an intense period it was to go through and how traumatic, stressful and emotionally difficult it was for both of us.”

In support of this year’s World Prematurity Day, WaterWipes has partnered with Ireland based charity Irish Neonatal Health Alliance (INHA), who represent the interests of preterm and ill infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU), to raise awareness and support for parents and healthcare professionals in the NICU. WaterWipes will be making a 50c donation to the INHA with every individual 60 pack purchased in Tesco this November, to help support babies born premature or sick.


Talking in a radio interview to raise awareness for World Prematurity Day and highlight the experience both partners go through in their preterm baby journey, WaterWipes campaign ambassadors and former professional boxer Nicola Adams and her partner Ella Baig, said: ‘Taylor arrived 5 weeks early, we were completely unprepared for this, and he was also a lot smaller than we anticipated. He just looked so fragile… and just holding him could be really intimidating. I think being a first-time parent anyway is a really hard… so having a premature baby just makes that situation just 10 times harder, just seeing how small and fragile they are and how fragile their skin is, can be really scary.’

Nicola went on further to describe the experience for herself in this situation, and said ‘It was like that for me as well, when I was looking at the research and the stats from WaterWipes, it says that 74% of parents felt anxious to touch their baby for the first time and that was me…first of all it’s my first child so I didn’t know how to hold the baby anyway, and then because he was premature I was even more anxious about holding him…It was really important having WaterWipes at that time because Taylor was born prematurely and WaterWipes can actually be used on premature babies skin, so it helped me and made me feel a lot more comfortable, especially knowing that there wasn’t any of the naughty chemicals in there… the wipes are actually quite wet compared to a lot of the other brands so I knew it wasn’t going to be really harsh on his skin, so it made me feel a lot more comfortable using them.’

WaterWipes gently clean and help protect delicate, newborn and premature skin. They are made with simply two ingredients, 99.9% purified water, a drop of fruit extract and nothing else. WaterWipes are validated as being purer than cotton wool and water (Skin Health Alliance 2020) making them ideal for cleansing premature babies' skin.

Jill Sommerville, Medical Director from WaterWipes comments: “Here at WaterWipes we know just how important and delicate all babies are and understand the difficult journey that preterm parents go through. We are delighted to be able to support the INHA with their important work this World Prematurity Day – with every individual 60 pack purchased in Tesco this November, our donation will help towards further improving the support that parents receive in the NICU.”

Main feature image:

Paul and Anne from Rathdrum in Wicklow with baby Sophia.