Royal Brompton’s paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) looks after seriously ill young patients who need around the clock care. Some of the youngest patients on the ward are new-borns, many with congenital heart diseases. These tiny babies will need to stay on the unit for extended periods and will not always have the presence of a parent to comfort them.

It is widely known that those first few days of life can shape a child’s development. Parents with a baby on ward may have to balance wanting to be there for their baby with caring for other children, so how do our PICU teams help babies feel safe and secure even when mum is not around?

Kerry Engelbrecht is the paediatric occupational therapist at Royal Brompton Hospital. She works within the neuro developmental team to support the development of infants and neonates in PICU and promotes family centred care.

I play a role in fostering those early infant parent relationships and that bond that we all know is so important. When a parent cannot be around, there are various positioning tools, transitional aids, soothing aids, and bonding/attachment aids, to help our little ones feel safe and secure.

Kerry applied for a grant from the Patients’ Fund to buy Zaky Hands. The Zaky Hand is a weighted, hand shaped cushion that parents can use when they are not able to hold their baby. The cushions can be held against a parent’s skin to pick up scent and placed on the infant’s bed to support their body and provide the sensation of touch and closeness to their mum.

The feeling of being touched can release hormones like oxytocin and melatonin which bring about feelings like safety, relaxation and trust in the baby. Becoming familiar with the sensation of being touched also improves a baby’s association with pain, movement, and stress. The Zaky Hand protectively provides an ergonomic surrounding where your baby self-regulates effectively. A child who feels safe, loved, comfortable, and relaxed sleeps better.

“It’s really important for parents to know that their baby is safe and secure on the ward and it’s really important for us too.” said Kerry. “We’ve only had incredibly positive feedback from families about the Zaky Hand. Some telling us: ‘These are miracle workers. My baby sleeps longer as she thinks she is still being held’ or ‘The Zaky hand has given my baby a safe, soft and close personal touch.’”

Each Zaky Hand is taken home with the baby on its discharge from hospital, which helps the baby to settle into its new environment and keeps them safe, comfortable, and centred. Kerry said:

We’re so grateful for the support of the Charity, we wouldn't be able to supply items like these to our parents without this funding.

This project was made possible through the Patients' Fund. Grants are allocated from this fund to any member of staff across Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals who has a great idea to improve their patients' experience. 

Learn about the patients' fund