The leading Neonatal Unit at Leeds Children’s Hospital has created an innovative new podcast series that launched on World Prematurity Day, 17th November, to support parents and families as they experience the ‘highs and lows’ of spending time on a neonatal unit with a premature or very poorly baby.

“Why did my body do this?”, “I felt like I’d failed” are just some of the comments from families who share their experiences in the series. Designed as a complete toolkit, the first of its kind, the podcast will ‘hold the hand’ of parents and families at what can be a very frightening time and support them to know that they are not alone. Voices include leading children’s specialists, psychologists, and the families themselves, who open up to make the journey of others easier.

11 episodes of ‘Unexpected Beginnings - The Neonatal Unit’ are available on all podcasting platforms. 

Focusing on a different element of the neonatal journey in each episode broadcasters, and Leeds Children’s Hospital neonatal parents themselves, Caroline Verdon and Kerry Bickerdike explore life on the neonatal unit, covering topics including arriving on the neonatal unit for the first time, difficulties bonding with a baby in an incubator and managing mental health.   

Leeds Children’s Hospital has one of the largest neonatal services in the UK, providing specialist care to around 1,700 babies each year, many of whom need intensive care or surgery. The neonatal team at Leeds has trail-blazed an innovative model of care called Family Integrated Care (FICare) since 2015.

‘Unexpected beginnings - The Neonatal Unit’ has been made possible with generous funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity who support Leeds Teaching Hospitals staff to deliver the best care for over a million patients and their families each year. 

Liz McKechnie - Consultant Neonatologist said:

‘We understand what a vulnerable time this can be, not only for the newly born babies, but their parents and wider families, which is why we launched our Family Integrated Care model in 2015. We aim to help parents become confident in looking after their poorly or premature new baby. We work with parents to adapt our care to help families and it is from this joint working that the podcast has been born.

We really wanted to seek new ways of engaging with and supporting not only our new families in Leeds, but any family with a premature baby, which is why we brought together a team of specialists to create this series. We hope that it will help parents navigate their often rocky neonatal journey.’

‘Unexpected Beginnings’ has been co-produced by broadcaster Caroline Verdon (Creative Director at Under the Mast) and veteran neonatal parent, in conjunction with the Leeds Children’s Hospital neonatal team. Caroline said: 

‘Our youngest child was born prematurely at 33 weeks in Leeds in 2019. Fred weighed 3lbs and I remember feeling scared to touch him in case I broke him. I felt guilty and blamed myself for him coming early and I struggled for a long time to feed a bond with him.  These feelings can make you feel very isolated because most of us bury them for fear of being judged but in reality, most parents on the neonatal unit are having similar thoughts.

This podcast is something I would have listened to, I could have done it as I lay awake at night or whilst I sat by Fred’s incubator. It would have made me feel better knowing I wasn’t the only person feeling my feelings and having my thoughts and would have made the experience less insular.’