During pregnancy, parents can think of nothing more than delivering a healthy baby and bringing little Tyler or Susan home right away to begin their new lives together. But what happens when your baby is born prematurely? Chances are he or she will spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 12% of all babies are born premature. It’s a stressful time for both baby and parents, as they cope with the separation and worries about what may lie ahead. But just because your baby may have been a little anxious to get here doesn’t mean there’s not a good chance your baby will survive and even thrive. When a friend of mine delivered prematurely, she named her son Chance for that very reason. He still had a chance.
When the unexpected happens, parents must take an active role in their child’s development. It’s not just up to the doctors and nurses. It is crucial in these early stages that a strong bond is developed between the baby and the family. Without a doubt, it is difficult to watch your baby struggling with each breath or fighting to gain weight, but the best thing that you can do is to stay involved.
While baby is in the hospital
Combating feelings of isolation and frustration can be a challenge. This unexpected separation from your child can leave you feeling a bit out of sorts and out of control. Regain some control by participating in your baby’s care. While all of these options may not be available depending on the hospital, here are some ways to remain close and nurture your baby:
- Hold your baby whenever possible.
- Volunteer to assist with routine care, such as feeding, bathing, taking temperature, etc.
- Express your breast milk for the baby. Even if your baby is not able to accept it now, it can be frozen for future use. Breast milk contains helpful nutrients for your baby that can help facilitate growth and prevent infection.
- Record yourself singing, talking, reading and laughing on tape so that your baby connects with your voice. You might can include a tape of womb sounds, as well.
- Placing pictures of the family in the crib and even a teddy for comfort will help the family feel closer to the baby.
- Even if your baby is too fragile for hands-on care, offer to volunteer in the NICU or take soiled clothes home to wash them. You’ll be amazed at how washing his tiny baby clothes can create closeness.
- If you are blessed with twins and they seem a little fussy, ask if their incubators can be placed next to each other or be placed in the same bed, if they are healthy enough. Remember, they’ve been close in the womb, and the separation along with the other physical challenges may be taking its toll.
When baby comes home
Once your baby has reached the wonderful weight of five pounds and is otherwise healthy, it’s time to transition home. What a glorious time! Here are some things to consider now that you are able to bring your baby home.
- Purchase a car seat specifically designed for preemies. Size really does matter when it comes to car seats, as too much space can cause your smaller baby to “bunch up” or slump when traveling. Stabilize baby with extra padding in the seat and around the head and keep an eye on baby with a rear view window monitor. Be sure the hospital does a car-seat test before discharge.
- Consider Kangaroo Care, which helps baby maintain optimal body temperature, experience a deeper sleep and increase oxygen in the blood. In this skin-to-skin procedure, baby is placed on the parent’s bare chest so that the baby’s head is over parent’s heart, creating something like a human incubator for baby.
- Keep consistent feedings. Most full-term babies don’t sleep through the night because they wake every 3-4 hours for feedings. However, premature babies might not be as active and may not alert you when it’s time to eat. Premature babies should not be allowed to sleep through the night. Be sure to maintain consistent baby mealtimes to help them gain weight, even if that means waking them. Six to 8 wet diapers a day shows that your baby is getting enough breast milk or formula. It’s common for premature babies to spit up after feedings. So monitor weight to be sure he or she is gaining.
- Doctor follow-ups are very important. Don’t wait to schedule your first appointment with the pediatrician. Premature babies are more at risk for respiratory infections if they’ve been on a ventilator, so follow-up exams with vaccinations and immunizations are key. Ask about vitamins and special formulas that may be needed.
- Seek support from other parents of premature babies that are a little further along in the process. They, along with the nurses and doctors, are a great resource for helpful information, and you will be encouraged by the progress of their children.
Hopefully this information will be helpful as you care for your baby. And as for the little boy Chance, he is doing great! He plays baseball, attends school and always joins in with the family’s activities, things you might think impossible for a child with cerebral palsy. While he has his challenges, he has grown into a handsome little boy with a broad smile and an amazing spirit. To find out more about him and his family’s mission to help other children with CP, visit www.2ndchancefund.org. To view some of our unique baby gifts to welcome baby home, visit Corner Stork Baby Gifts.