Austin’s Hand to Hold starts NICU Now podcast for parents of premature babies

Parents can listen to a NICU Now podcast in the hospital while sitting with their babies. Hand to Hold
Parents can listen to a NICU Now podcast in the hospital while sitting with their babies. Hand to Hold

This month, local nonprofit Hand to Hold released a podcast NICU Now on iTunes and Stitcher.

Founder Kelli Kelley started Hand to Hold officially in 2010, but the roots of it go back to when Kelley gave birth to her son Jackson in 2000 at 24 weeks gestation. Hand to Hold connects parents of babies who are born early or are medically fragile to resources.

nicu-now-launchesThe podcast is a new way for Hand to Hold to reach more parents and make them aware of the services Hand to Hold provides such as a peer mentors and written materials about life in the NICU and what happens after you go home.

The idea for the podcast started in 2015 when Kelley received a concussion after being hit in the head by a volleyball at her daughter’s practice. She felt that queasy unsettling that comes with motion sickness or early pregnancy. She couldn’t follow a recipe or do much of anything. Her doctor prescribed her with time in bed doing nothing: no reading, no watching TV.

And so she turned to listening to podcasts after a friend who was a podcast junkie had serendipitously showed her the week before how to download podcasts. She started with listening to “Serial” but soon discovered a Radio Lab podcast talking to Tom and Kelly French, who wrote about their daughter in the book “Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon.”

Kelley recognized that a podcast could be the way to connect more families. “This is a way for NICU family to share their stories,” she says.

Since Kelley started Hand to Hold, she says, she realized the limits of what hospitals can provide their families as many hospitals have had to cut things like social workers and support groups. “This is free and easy,” she says of the podcast.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. David'’s Medical Center was where Kelli Kelley’s journey began. Now she’s executive director of Hand to Hold, an organization to help parents of children born prematurely or with other complications. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. David’’s Medical Center was where Kelli Kelley’s journey began.

Often, parents bring their phones into the NICU while they sit with the baby or into the room where they pump milk for their babies. While they are there, they could be accessing information and support through the podcast. They also could listen to it while they drive to and from the hospital. Each episode has a link to a resource guide that brings listeners back to the Hand to Hold website.

Every website talks about “demystifying counseling and being open to finding support,” Kelley says.

She knows  the toll of having a baby in the NICU. Years after her son was born, and later her daughter was also in the NICU, Kelley realized that she still had anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder because of that time. “If that goes undiagnosed, that can impact their ability to bond with the baby,” she says.

Hand to Hold launched NICU Now with 15 episodes:

It found grant funding from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and Prolacta Bioscience and Huggies and tapped Austin musicians The Mrs. for music and Milam Film Works for production.

Early feedback has brought requests for additional topics. Kelley is hoping to get information about the podcasts and maybe even earbuds into hospitals.

Kelley also has plans for additional podcast series. NICU Heroes will be for professionals like nurses and doctor, who can listen to it on their way to work and home. She wants it to get accredited as continuing education

NICU and Beyond will be about what happens after you go home. One episode will be about Travis Eckert, who is from Austin and was in the neonatal unit. Now he’s been drafted by the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

“I want to build hope and build them up to let them know: you’re not alone,” Kelley says.


Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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