Cairns, Australia Gets a BIG HUG!

We had a quick flight from Adelaide to Cairns and were greeted by the most amazing "dead of winter" weather. We shed our fleeces, hats and gloves and put on lightweight shirts and sunscreen to enjoy the tropical climate!

I felt immediately at home when I unpacked my HUG workshop gear in the Cairns Base Hospital, where health professionals are trained at the James Cook medical school. Since Cairns health professionals must often travel far and wide for relevant continuing education, they appreciated our Australian host holding a HUG workshop here.

During the past two workshops I have spent more time demonstrating actual techniques to engage a newborn to look at a toy or face and respond to a voice. I presented my highly valued developmental assessment tool: an AU$2 box of red TicTacs! I explained that not only do they have a great sound, you can eat them if you forget your lunch!

I remind participants that most newborns have a moment of hesitation before their eyes start to move in response to visual or auditory stimulation. “Be still and stop shaking the rattle or moving your head a few seconds when you see this hesitation,” I explain. “If you don’t, the baby may send out an SOS and just 'Shut Down'." I warned that it is likely to require practicing this technique with at least 10 babies before getting comfortable with it. But as we are fond of saying, "It takes courage to learn something new!"

Several of the nurses, midwives and LCs expressed concern about how to respond "if the baby just can't do it."

Since it is our job to see EVERY baby as a success, I show and discuss video of a baby’s steps to gaining this skill. When a baby does not orient as expected, the professional can say, "I see your baby gets quiet and still when she sees the toy. That's great! In the next week or so she will be able to look at that toy with her eyes and later be able to move both her eyes and her head as the toy moves." Such information reassures parents and gives them the ability to see their baby grow in her engagement with the world.

The "Broadcasting and Commentating" practice session was especially fun in Cairns. Participants' comments included: "I noticed I started to see more as I was Broadcasting"; "Broadcasting is like learning a new language"; and, "I'm sure a parent would feel I've really connected with their baby." What at first seemed like a simple idea, now seemed, to some, as simply amazing!

I finished my day having a special conversation with a maternal-child health nurse who travels by small plane to visit isolated Aboriginal and Islander villages. She has remarkable pictures, videos, and stories to share about her patients, who have strong family bonds, significant struggles with poverty, and amazing passion for their babies. We brain-stormed about the possibility of collaborating on a HUG video mades especially for Australia's indigenous families.

And of course, no trip to Cairns is complete without a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It was indeed a privilege to see a reef system of this magnitude. As exciting as that was, it did not cause Jim and me as much joy and laughter as watching each other squirm into our wetsuits!