Little Elsie Dutton’s family had an agonizing wait before they could hold their beautiful daughter, but it was worth it.
The Duttons are now delighted to have brought Elsie back prematurely from the hospital, where she spent her first five months fighting for life.
Family hugs have added meaning for Elsie – born at just 23 weeks and weighing 1lb 4oz – after her twin died in the womb.
And it was hugs from mum Amy, 33, that helped save the toddler’s life.
Amy was able to hold her newborn daughter for just 30 seconds before being taken to an incubator. And at just 10 days old, Elsie underwent surgery to fix a hole in her gut.
After a month in the incubator, doctors suggested Amy hug her baby, skin to skin, for about three or four hours a day.
Studies have shown that such contact – known as kangaroo care – helps premature babies adjust to life outside the womb, protects them from infection and even reduces their hospital stay.
Amy said: “The first time I held Elsie properly was amazing, I’ve never experienced anything like it. There is no other feeling in the world that compares. I held her in my arms and could see on all the monitors that her heartbeat was relaxing.
For hours every day, Amy sat and held her baby girl close to her chest, cuddling her and watching her gradually grow stronger.
“Having to wait so long to hold her was really hard, so when I did it meant so much,” Amy said.
“It’s crazy to think that cuddling her had such an impact – it saved her life.
“It was good for me too, because being able to hold her in my arms also helped reduce my stress levels.”
Bridal stylist Amy gave birth early when doctors tried to separate her twins. They suffered from transfusion syndrome, where a baby gets all the nutrients.
Initially, doctors at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, thought the procedure – an endoscopic laser removal – had gone well.
But then Amy started bleeding heavily and needed three blood transfusions. She said: “We lost Dotty’s heartbeat and then a few hours later I had lost so much blood I went into labor at 23 weeks plus four days.”
When Elsie was born on December 2, 2021, weighing the same as a can of soup, doctors warned Amy and her husband Scott, 34, that she might not survive. Amy said the time spent cuddling Elsie had been amazing but also tinged with sadness. She said: “Losing Dotty was really difficult.
“Because it was before 24 weeks I was never able to register her as stillborn… she was classified as a miscarriage. This meant that I was also unable to put on Elsie’s birth certificate that she was a twin.
“Being able to have this on the papers would have allowed me to come to terms after going through something so difficult. We were able to get a memorial certificate for her and her ashes which was very helpful in the grieving process. Her funeral was paid for by the charity First Touch. It was a very important day for us.”
Last month doctors said Elsie was finally strong enough to return home to Barnsley, South Yorks.
There, she was finally able to enjoy many cuddles with Amy and Scott, and her seven-year-old brother, Charlie.
Amy said: “Bringing her home for the first time was truly amazing. I almost didn’t think it was real – the day felt like a dream come true.
“I have never felt such relief as when we were able to get out of the hospital and bring Elsie home. It’s so surreal to hold your baby in your arms and think about how you could have lost her. Having him home after all this uncertainty was nothing but bliss.
It meant the family could put months of anxiety behind them – a worry that came to a head when fighter Elsie was just a few days old.
The operation she needed to repair the hole in her intestine, necrotizing enterocolitis, was risky.
Even if all went well, she would still be at risk of infection while recovering. Amy said: ‘We had no idea how long it would take because they wouldn’t know how much of his intestine survived until they cut it open.
“We had to wait three hours. It was the longest three hours of my life. We constantly looked at the clock.
“It was the biggest relief when we saw her again. The surgeon said it went wonderfully, in the best of times.
Amy spent most of the week in hospital with Elsie and Glazier Scott and Charlie traveled to London over the weekend to see them. Children were not allowed on the ward, so they were never able to be together as a family. But after four months at St George’s and one at Barnsley Hospital, Amy was able to bring Elsie home.
Amy said: “She defied all odds… she is just amazing.
“Just before we left, our doctor told me that Elsie was the first surviving baby she had intubated. To say she overcame that and got away with it…we’re incredibly lucky.
“Having him and Charlie together is so special. She is really fulfilled.
What is Kangaroo Therapy?
Research shows that kangaroo care can help improve the lives of premature babies.
The World Health Organization endorses the method, involving skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. It can reduce mortality in hospitalized infants by up to 40%, according to a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Kangaroo therapy helps babies adjust to life outside the womb, improves sleep, protects against infections and prepares for breastfeeding, according to the charity Tommy’s.
Dr Sijo Francis, of St George’s Hospital, said: ‘When babies like Elsie are born prematurely, clinical intervention is essential, but parental involvement also has a hugely positive effect.
“When mothers hold their baby in their arms for a long time, stress for both mother and baby is reduced and we see improved short- and long-term outcomes.”