A PIONEERING project which helps parents get premature babies home more quickly has been devised at an Oxford hospital.

Babies born early have problems with co-ordinating sucking and swallowing so are fed through a nasal gastric tube until they can manage on their own.

But experts at the John Radcliffe Hospital’s newborn intensive care unit have been teaching parents how to use a feeding system to allow families to go home earlier.

The pilot scheme is the only one of its kind in the South Central region, and is for babies born between 28 and 34 weeks.

Little Poppy Lynch-Blosse was born nearly seven weeks early.

Weighing just 3lbs 15oz, it was vital she was fed properly as soon as possible.

But because she was born so early, she had not developed the suckling reflex and so had to be tube fed.

But after 10 days in the high dependency unit, and a further week in the low dependency unit, mother Kate Lynch Blosse, 29, was able to take her daughter home to Wantage, thanks to the initiative.

She said: “Just being home with her makes all the difference.

“I was in hospital with her for a week, and then I commuted in for 10 days. It was an hour and half round trip, which was very tiring, and you don’t realise how stressful it is until you have to do it.

“Having her back here at home, being able to hold her, and see her when I want, it’s so much better.”

Poppy was the first baby to be fed under the scheme and was able to come off tube feeding within a week of being home.

Now 15 weeks old, she is happy and healthy.

The project is now being extended to the Horton General Hospital, Banbury.

Consultant neonatologist Dr Eleri Adams is director of the hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit. She said: “We don’t send the babies home until the parents are able to manage the feeding overnight.

“The parents are able to take the babies home on a regime of tube feeding, so that they are able to carry on family life without multiple trips to the hospital.

“Our neonatal outreach nurses see them at home on a regular basis.”