A VITAL support group has been launched to help parents through the ordeal of premature birth.
Sunderland Buddies aims to provide a social network for mums and dads, allowing them to share their concerns and experiences.
The service, based at the neo-natal unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital, is being spearheaded by staff nurse Hayley Agnew.
“The aim of the network is for families of premature and sick babies to communicate,” she said.
“They can share their experiences and help others to understand what it’s like.
“Parents are linked with other parents that have been in a similar situation, so that they know they are not alone.
“Each parent and child is different and has different experiences, but we all need someone to talk to.”
As well as telephone and online links, Sunderland Buddies also holds a monthly meeting, allowing families to meet for a chat.
“We want to put parents with children currently at the hospital in touch with parents that have previously had a premature baby on the unit,” said Hayley.
“All details will remain private at all times and only the co-ordinator will know personal information..”
Mums who have endured the trauma of premature birth have pledged their support to the scheme.
Donna Pickering, from Fulwell, gave birth to daughter Katie Wilson 13 weeks early, two years ago.
The 24-year-old, who had previously lost two babies because of premature births, said: “I wish the group was there for me when I gave birth.
“It was a terrifying experience, just to have someone to talk to who had been through the same thing would have been a huge help.
“I couldn’t believe how small Katie was at the time. I sometimes still can’t believe she came through it, but she’s doing great now.
Parents with children at the hospital were also impressed by the initiative.
Joanne Edmonds, 37, and partner Eric Nunn, 38, from Whitburn, have twins who were born 10 weeks premature.
Little James Nunn weighed just 2lb 10oz, while brother Harry was 3lb.
“They are both doing well now, but it was a terrifying experience to go through,” said Joanne. “You need all the support you can get.”
Mum Sonia Morton, 40, from South Shields, also gave the group her backing. Her son Oscar Simon, now three, was born five weeks premature while his brother Leyton, who is eight weeks old and currently in the Wearside hospital, was three months premature.
“It’s important to have someone there who knows what it’s like,” said Sonia.
For more information about Sunderland Buddies, email email@example.com.