The parents of premature and sick babies face “crippling costs” such as hospital parking charges and needing to buy food on-site, a charity has said.

A report from Bliss found parents spend £2,256 during their baby’s stay in hospital - an average of £282 per week. Food and drink cost around £53 a week, while travel costs including petrol and parking averaged more than £100 per week.

The charity’s poll of more than 1,300 parents who used 78 hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales also found that two-thirds of parents felt their mental health got worse due to increasing cost pressures.

Three-quarters of parents said their household finances deteriorated while one in five could not afford to pay bills such as their rent or mortgage.

Among the families, babies stayed in neonatal care units for an average of eight weeks.

One in four families had babies who needed 12 or more weeks in hospital, while 5 per cent had a stay of more than 20 weeks.

Bliss said two-thirds of parents reported paying for parking because they were not told they could have it for free or at a reduced rate. In England, 87 per cent of hospitals provide free parking for the parents of premature or sick babies. Welsh and Scottish hospitals offer free parking.

The charity is calling for costs to be reimbursed for parents who have to travel more than 20 miles to see their baby in hospital.

Bliss chief executive Andy Cole said: “Whether parents receive the financial and emotional support they need when their premature or sick baby is in hospital should not be a game of chance.

“This is already an extremely stressful time for parents, but one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about is whether they can afford to be there for their baby. Bliss wants to see better financial support for parents without delay.”