Consultant Gillian Kennedy (right) with Jonathan and Louise Gallagher and baby Albion in UCLH's Elizabeth Garrett Anderson neonatal unit
"Our attitude to new born babies has changed over the years – it is no longer what we do to babies but how we work with the baby."“They are all so individual. When you meet the baby, they really show you what they like and dislike so it’s possible to see them as a unique person with his or her own character. Our attitude to new born babies has changed over the years – it is no longer what we do to babies but how we work with the baby.”
The consultant speech and language therapist was recently awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work in helping babies and their families overcome feeding problems and promoting neuro-development.
Individuality is the key. “It is important to look at signals, cues. What is the baby’s skin colour like, breathing patterns, limb movements? How do they show us when their energy is running low? Observing these small signs and identifying patterns of behaviour can help us identify if the baby needs more support medically or through our handling, positioning or care. For example, laying the baby on their right side to help the stomach empty quicker or lowering the feeding tube so that the milk flow is slower both help the baby digest more comfortably. This can help reduce the need for medication and helps future progression to breast or bottle feeding. The most important people to the baby are the parents so we always work jointly with the family right from the start. They can teach us about their baby.”
As one of only two specialist trainers in the UK (NIDCAP – Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program), she works with families and teaches healthcare staff to recognise the importance of non-verbal communication in infants and is a national and international adviser and educator in the field.
Gillian started her career as a speech and language therapist with adult neurological patients and had a particular interest in the physiology of swallowing. Transferring her skills to new-born babies, she joined the neo-natal unit at UCLH 20 years ago, a work environment which continues to offer a “stimulating atmosphere and brilliant colleagues.” Liz Clark and Katie Cullinan, fellow speech and language therapists, receive a special name-check!
“I am completely captivated by the work. I love it with as much passion now as I did when my career began. The support we give to babies soon after birth is so important and helps strengthen neurological connections in the brain and that will influence their potential for the rest of their lives.”
A modest woman, she couldn’t quite believe what she was reading when she spotted the Cabinet Office post mark on a white envelope delivered to her home. “I thought it might be regarding my passport and even when I read it I wasn’t certain. My husband who was standing at the kitchen sink confirmed it was about an OBE. I had to keep it secret for six weeks – it was like hugging a Christmas present! The excitement still hasn’t evaporated,” she said.