Having a baby prematurely can be one of the most surprising and frightening things in life. Birth is always a miracle, but it can be overshadowed by concern about your baby’s health if he or she is a born too early. However, there’s much you can do to take care of your baby and yourself if you find you’re in this situation.
Special Challenges of Preemies
Your baby may have some challenges you weren’t expecting to have to deal with. Many preemies, however, catch up and experience completely normal and healthy development. Some of these challenges include:
Low body fat, motor or behavioral deficits, issues maintaining body heat, low kidney function, trouble breathing, delayed breastfeeding, low functioning immune system, bleeding into the brain, developmental delays or learning disabilities, motor or behavioral deficits, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), low blood sugar, anemia
How to Best Help Your Baby and Yourself
- Allow yourself plenty of time to heal after childbirth. Eat healthy and get as much rest as you can. When your doctor says it’s okay, make time for exercise.
- Acknowledge your emotions. Expect a wide range of emotions. You may be all over the spectrum, but give yourself permission to take things one day at a time. Remember your partner or spouse may react completely differently, but that’s completely normal. Support each other.
- Take a break when you need it. You may leave the hospital before your baby does. Use your time at home to prepare for your baby’s arrival. Your baby needs you, but it’s important to make time for yourself and the rest of your family.
- Be honest with your baby’s siblings. If you have other children, answer their questions about the new baby simply. You may explain that their baby brother or sister is sick and you’re worried, but reassure them. Show them pictures of the baby since they probably won’t be allowed in the NICU. They’ll want to know all about their new baby brother or sister.
- Accept help from others. Allow friends and loved ones to care for your older children, prepare food, clean the house, or run errands. Let them know what would be most helpful for you.
- Seek support. Surround yourself with understanding friends and family. Talk with other NICU parents, join a local support group, and check online communities for parents of preemies. If you’re feeling depressed, there is no shame in seeking professional counseling or talking to your pastor.
- Bringing baby home. When you finally get to bring your baby home, you may feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety. You may be nervous about taking your baby home and leaving the medical team who has cared for your baby. Keep in mind, however, that as you spend more time with your baby you’ll better understand how to meet his or her needs.
- As a reminder, measure your baby’s development by his or her corrected age. This is your baby’s age in weeks minus the number of weeks he or she was premature. For example, if your baby was born eight weeks early, at six months of age, your baby’s corrected age is four months. Depending on how premature he or she was, there may be some developmental delays for the first year or two. Don’t be alarmed. Most preemies catch up quickly!
If you would like to know more about preemies or want to talk to one of our nurses, please feel free to give us a call at 304-344-4511. We also have a module in our Earn While You Learn program with more information on this topic.