• Twins Tate and Jobe spent last Christmas in the neonatal intensive care unit in Melbourne (Supplied)Source: Supplied
From stockings to hand-sewn teddies, tinsel and Saint Nicks: Meet the people making Christmas special for babies in hospital this year.
Bianca Soldani

19 Dec 2016 - 3:05 PM  UPDATED 23 Dec 2016 - 12:20 PM

Every year, the newborn babies at Magee-Women's Hospital in Pennsylvania, wake up on Christmas morning swaddled in stockings.The festive surprise is weeks in the making, with local volunteers enlisted to hand-knit red, white and green hats to ensure the children's first Christmas is a special one (see top photo gallery below).

In Australia meanwhile, hospitals around the country are busy preparing for a joyful festive season. Here's what's planned at Melbourne's Royal Women’s Hospital, Mater Mothers Hospital in Brisbane, the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, and Adelaide's Women’s and Children’s Hospital.


At Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women, Christmas came early this year with a visit from Kris Kringle.

With tinsel decking the halls of the maternity ward, former and present patients got dressed up and had the opportunity to take a photo with Santa.

The event was part of an annual fundraising effort that this year collected $2,000 to help buy equipment like ventilators for the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

The hospital’s CEO Catherine Oates Smith tells SBS: “It's heartwarming to see babies go home at Christmas with their families. If babies aren't well enough to go home we are so pleased to bring Santa to them.”

“Around Christmas time many mums and dads visit the hospital with their babies, and choose to make a donation to The Foundation to thank a midwife or doctor who helped their family," says Oats Smith. "The hospital cares for 600 premature babies every year. What could be more precious than saving a baby's life this Christmas?”


Meanwhile in Melbourne, young mum Tenille Koistinen will be spending her first Christmas at home with her twin boys Tate and Jobe, after they were born 11 weeks premature in November 2015.

Weighing less than an average full-term baby together, the boys had to spend two months - which included all of the festive season - at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. 

“They were born six weeks before Christmas Day so I was always hopeful that they may come home before Christmas, but it wasn’t to be for us,” Koistinen tells SBS.

There was however, “lots of support and lots of love that was brought to us when the boys were there”, with the staff decorating the rooms and volunteers knitting tiny red and green beanies and cardigans.

“We also had one of the nurses dress up as Santa on Christmas Day and take a photo with the boys in her arms so they had their first photo with Santa, and I was able to bring in a Christmas tree so we were really able to make their space feel as homely as they could.”

Almost a year later, the boys are doing well and are now looking forward to spending this festive season together.

“It definitely will be a celebration of how far they’ve come since last year, it’s been the longest year but we’re so grateful to have them with us,” Koistinen says.

A spokesperson for the Royal Women’s Hospital tells SBS that they are expecting to have between 40 and 60 babies in their Neonatal Intensive Care this Christmas. They expect a further 30 women will be in the labour ward "receiving an extra special Christmas present".

One of the midwives on hand to bring them into the world will be Associate Unit Manager Samantha Peddle, who has worked in the Royal Women's birthing unit for five out of the past six Christmases, and tells SBS it's always a busy day.

“A lot of women think, 'oh it’s Christmas Day, surely my baby will wait', but it’s surprising how many babies choose to come on Christmas Day," Peddle says.

"When the families come in, many are in shock that they’ve gone into labour and then reality sets in and there’s this overwhelming feeling of excitement. Christmas is truly all about families so for us to help and get involved and share the experience with families is so special."

Peddle usually celebrates the holiday with her own family in the Gippsland on Boxing Day, but makes sure to bring the festivities to the hospital on the 25th. She says the staff love getting dressed up and bringing in all sorts of food and baked goods for the occasion - and they aren't the only ones.

"Last year we had a whole Lebanese family come in after their niece had had a baby and they set up the birthing room full of Christmas food," she recalls, "We all rolled out the door afterwards, they were incredibly generous with their food!"


Many of the babies in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit of Brisbane's Mater Mothers Hospital, won't be able to spend their first Christmas at home with their families, but the nurses who care for them are trying to make the day a special one nevertheless.

They've been busy making Santa sacks, Christmas stockings and hand-sewn teddy bears for the babies and plan on taking an inking of each newborn's footprints on Christmas Eve to put in a personalised card.

One of the nurses in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit, Vera Paramonov, has made over 1,200 stockings for the newborns over the years and also helps organise and distribute the gifts that are donated to the hospital.

Special Care Nurse Unit Manager Rita Houghton tells SBS; “We look after these babies every single day and they become like our family.”

“We do this job because we’re here for the families and want to make their Christmas a special time," says Houghton.

"Past families of the Neonatal Critical Care Unit have kept special mementos from when they came in to see their baby on Christmas morning, and now repay the favour by providing similar gifts for current families – it’s lovely to be part of that.”

Around 10,000 babies are born at Mater Mothers every year and the Neonatal Critical Care Unit looks after 2,000 sick and premature babies.


At the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, a number of events are held to ensure children and families who aren't able to be at home over the festive season still have a special Christmas.

This year, it all kicked off with a visit from the Credit Union Christmas Pageant clowns and the hospital's annual Premature Babies’ Christmas Party which both took place last month.

A spokesperson from the hospital tells SBS that the latter is designed "to celebrate the remarkable lives" of babies who are born between 10 and 16 weeks prematurely.

"This celebration is a wonderful opportunity for neonatal staff to reconnect with the families they have cared for and to promote the importance of early child development among the hospital’s most vulnerable infants," the spokesperson says.

The festivities continued last week with the South Australian Police coming to visit along with Santa, his elves and some Star Wars characters. While on December 23, Father Christmas will be back to deliver donated gifts to the children's ward.



Want to see more babies? Watch the international documentary, Babies, on SBS On Demand. The feature goes aross borders and cultures, from Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo, to capture the earliest stages of four babies during their first year on earth.

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