Developmental Hearts - Keeping families with premature babies together even when apart
Having a premature baby can be a scary and isolating experience for parents, especially when the baby is too sick to stay with mum and dad. Watching your newborn in an isolette can be heartbreaking, especially when all you want to do is cuddle your child and let them know you are there for them.
Formed in 2005 by Shusannah Morris, The Life's Little Treasures Foundation (LLTF) was created with the goal of providing families of sick and premature babies with much-needed support and information, both at the hospital and back home.
"[The foundation was created by] parents who had experienced having a premature baby themselves," says Belinda Algie, Digital Marketing Coordinator for LLTF, "and during their journey they recognised there was very little in the way of support and resources for families going through a similar experience, so they decided to form the foundation."
When preparing for a pregnancy, the 'worst case' scenarios are often explained in very clinical medical terms, in favour of what to expect when giving birth and how to prepare for your baby's arrival at home. While expecting parents definitely don't want to be dwelling on these potential situations, when a baby is born prematurely, many are not prepared for the physical and emotional toll that it is going to have on them.
"There's not much information or education out there for what to expect… it can be really confronting for families when they find themselves in this situation."
One of the most painful things for families of premature and sick babies is being unable to hold their newborn, and COVID-19 only made this worse. But in 2019, LLTF developed an idea that could help alleviate this problem.
The Developmental Hearts program involves sewing a heart shape out of cotton, flannel or fleece fabric which is placed on the chest of the parents near their own hearts to absorb their scent. The heart can then be placed into the crib with the baby and, according to Belinda, provides a way that the mother or father can always be with her child.
"It's a way of parents being able to be there for their baby when they can't physically be there… which is often the case at times."
While the heart does bring comfort, there is also a range of medical benefits these hearts provide to babies. The scent of a mother's breastmilk can help stabilise a baby, reducing their heart rate and anxiety, help with feeding and even reduce the pain after jabs like the Hepatitis B vaccine. Smelling the scent of the baby is also calming for parents too.
The Developmental Hearts are the most popular crafted item available from the LLTF, and hospitals can order large packs of these hearts for free. Families who receive a heart in hospital are allowed to keep them for life.
"We have people say to us 'I got your package today and I just burst into tears. To know that there is someone there that took the time to make a little heart to send to me'... it's those little things that make a huge difference. It's a very practical way to offer support… letting someone know you care."
A developmental heart is a precious thing for a family, and is often kept and either displayed or used as a comforting security toy by premature children as they grow up.
Every developmental heart is given with the following poem:
These special hearts are for you to share.
Under your clothes for you to wear.
Gently place it next to baby while they rest
It will feel like they are snuggled up on your chest.
So when it's time for you to part.
Your scent will always be on this heart.
Ex-premature babies and LLTF
The foundation has been delighted to see babies who have been born prematurely growing up and in turn helping out to pay their experience forward to other families. Here are just some of their stories:
Daughter of founder Shusannah Morris, Molly was born prematurely at just 25 weeks in 2003. Now at 19 years old, Molly joins in on the Walk for Prems, a nationwide initiative where anyone can walk either at the predetermined track or as a 'virtual' walk near their home. Molly says that the walk is also a way for her to remember the "positive impact on people and the amazing work [Sushannah] and her friends have done over the past years to make Life's Little Treasures as considerate and valuable to so many people as it is."
The Walk for Prems is a wonderful way to connect with other families of premature babies, and 100% of proceeds go directly to LLTF to help support families who need it. While this walk was impacted by Covid and changed for many to a virtual walk, Walk For Prems is now back at one of six stunning locations around the country.
Molly stresses that Sushannah's "story and her selflessness, as well as her care for others, should be remembered and not forgotten as it is the core reasoning for the foundation being so inspiring and touching. The great thing to see is that her legacy has proven to be continued to this day which makes me proud of her."
Lavinia was born early at 35 weeks to mum Erin at the Mercy Hospital for Women, and is now a healthy 9-year-old. When LLTF put out the call for help in creating developmental hearts, Lavinia approached her mum and, as a keen sewer, wanted to help. Growing up, Lavinia had heard stories from her mother about how scary it was supporting a premature baby and how helpful the LLTF was throughout the whole process. Lavinia sewed her hearts over school holidays and her creations all went to babies in need.
"I have made 13 developmental hearts (with a little bit of help)." Says Lavinia. "I have chosen bright colours to help develop the babies' senses. I hope these are helpful for the babies that need a little extra love before going home."
Jasmine was born at 27 weeks to mum Maggie, and faced a number of challenges that had her spending many months in NICU. Now in 2022, Jasmine is 21 years old and a busy uni student who actively volunteers with LLTF, giving much of her time to helping other families on their journey.
Maggie also works for the foundation and is one of their Peer Support Team Members who helps run their online NICU Connections Support Groups. Peer Support Teams Members have all gone through their own journeys with a premature baby, and are able to provide the support to families only someone who has gone through the same experience can provide.
Life's Little Treasures Foundation 2022 Milestones
Every year the foundation sets milestones for the group to hit, and for 2022 there is a focus on awareness and accessibility.
While hospitals do an excellent job of providing parents with information concerning potential premature births, LLTF is keen to ensure parents can access information provided by other parents with the lived experience, as hearing from another family who has been through it can be incredibly encouraging for new parents of premature or sick children.
LLTF creates milestone packs to help families in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) through key dates, and each pack contains a developmental heart and other goodies. LLTF aims to send out 2,300 packs for every special date, including Mother's and Father's Day, Milestones in March, Easter, World Prematurity Day (17th of November) and Christmas. They also create 100-day quilts, which are gorgeous handmade blankets made to celebrate a baby's 100th day. These are big projects to make, and LLTF encourages keen quilters to create quilts to help families celebrate their preemie's successes.
LLTF also wishes to extend their services and products to more families, particularly those in regional Australia. While they work Australia-wide, many families in regional areas lack the awareness around premature babies that is found in metro areas and so LLTF wishes to provide their educational services to these families. Please check here to see the various health and research organisations LLTF has partnered with and how you can help!
For the families of premature and sick babies, even the smallest gesture can mean the world. If you would like to help a family in need by creating a developmental heart, simply follow LLTF's sewing pattern and send it to the postal address below:
1/21 Eugene Tce, Ringwood, VIC 3134
How you can help
In Australia, approximately 48,000 babies are born either premature or sick, so LLTF is always working to provide affected families with support, advice and friendship. As they are not a government-funded organisation, they rely on help and donations from anyone willing to lend a hand.
This experience is made even worse for regional families, as they must often travel great distances to hospitals where their babies can be effectively looked after, often living a long way from home for extended periods of time and away from other children. LLTF is especially keen on resources to help them reach these families.
"Reaching families in those more remote regional areas is a big thing for us. The financial strain that those families go through… it's really tough."
While donations are always useful, interested people can contribute directly in a number of ways:
- Crafting - just like making a developmental heart, there are all sorts of ways keen sewers, knitters and crocheters can get involved. Developmental hearts are what LLTF goes through the most, but you can also choose from a range of blankets, toys and clothes to make from LLTP's patterns here.
- Volunteering - LLTP loves their volunteers, as they are the gears that keep the charity moving! Volunteers help with creating and distributing care packages for new families, providing meals to busy parents in hospitals, helping run their events and more. If you are interested in volunteering, visit their volunteer information page.
- Events - LLTP host and participate in a number of events across the year, all dedicated to raising awareness and assistance for the families of premature and sick babies. There are events suited for all ages and everyone is encouraged to participate! Check out their event schedule here.
No matter your age or experience, LLTF encourages anyone interested in volunteering to help out however they can.
For more ways to support local charities through arts and crafts, join our Craft For A Cause Facebook group.
Feeling inspired to make your own Developmental hearts? Find the free project sheet online here and watch the below tutorial video.