What You Should Know If You Have a Preterm Baby

If you have just had a preterm baby, welcome.  Welcome to the exclusive club you never wanted to join.  I welcome you because you are my sister now.  Initiation is a bitch, but I promise you at the end of this you will find strength in yourself you never knew you had.  I am not going to tell you everything will be alright – that would only be dismissive of the totally legit worry you have.  This is hard, hard stuff.  But I can tell you that you can do this.  You are strong.


A few things I wish someone would have told me when I became the mother of a premature baby:


1.  

Take all the help you can get.  When people ask if they can help – refer them to the list below.

2.  

Be aware you might not make as much breast milk as a full term mommy for a variety of reasons (your body didn’t have as much time to start making milk, you may have had a traumatic birth, your placenta may not have come all the way out on its own, you were probably separated from your babe shortly after delivery, etc).  Lots of people in those first days will tell you it’s your job to make milk for the baby and then your body may not cooperate.  It is one of life’s cruel jokes and it’s not your fault!

3.  

Did you hear me when I said “it’s not your fault”.  I want to repeat this again – none of this is your fault.  There are drug addicts that have perfectly healthy full term babies so it is not your fault, or your body’s fault.  There are a million reasons you can go into premature labor and bad luck is one of them.  Treat yourself nicely and get help if like me you felt insanely guilty over something that you logically know wasn’t your fault.

4.  

On the other end of the spectrum you may not be feeling guilty.  You may be PISSED!  Pissed at your doctor, pissed at the hospital, pissed at your higher power, pissed at the freaking world.  Why did this happen to your baby!?!?!?  Feel free to get angry – just try and channel it in the right way.  Like try not to focus it ALL on the NICU nurses, they are good peeps and they work hard (that is not to say that you can’t complain to the Charge Nurse if it is warranted).

5.  

Don’t feel like every mom but you is with the baby 24/7.  They aren’t, or if they are they will pay for it later. Go home and get some sleep.  As the NICU Nurses love to say “You have the most expensive babysitters in the world” – use them!  You aren’t going to make it through this marathon if you run at full speed the whole time.  Pace yourself.

6.  

Don’t feel bad if you don’t think your baby is cute.  Seriously, it is hard sometimes to see past the tubes and wires to that cute little earthling underneath. They look different than you are expecting, see through skin and fur were off-putting to me at first and then I felt guilty for not thinking he was the cutest thing in the world (yeah I had a lot of guilt)

7.  

Take lots of pictures and journal – you are in shock -you may not remember anything later and may want to know what the heck just happened.

8.  

On that note – take whatever “memorabilia” you can from the hospital – their first pacifier, first diaper (not the ACTUAL first diaper because that is disgusting, but one of the leftovers when they move up a size), anything that will show their tiny size and will help get through to all the people that might want to visit when they go home just how fragile they are.

9.  

Decide whether you want to go public on social media or keep things private.  Even if you are keeping it just family and close friends you may want to designate one person to keep everyone updated so you aren’t constantly sending updates.  Sites like caringbridge.com can help you disseminate information or email and Facebook work as well.

10. 

NICU moms are more prone to Postpartum Depression (see guilt and anger above).  If you even think that this might be happening then go talk to someone.  Your OB, the NICU Social Worker, a therapist.  Just start talking.

11.

Make some premie parent friends.  No one can understand the emotional roller coaster like another parent of a premie.  Although, one word of caution – steer clear of the parent that tries to play the “my baby is getting better faster than your baby” or “my baby is sicker than your baby” game.  All our babies are in the NICU for a reason and we all need support in our lives. I found my tribe through the preemie baby board on inspire.com, handtohold.org and through the NICU social worker who introduced me to other premie parents.

Things to help a premie parent:

1.   There are a lot of people who will tell you what to say and not say to a premie parent and lots of people would disagree with those people but here is one that almost never fails:  “Congratulations, your baby is beautiful.  I am so sorry they are in the NICU.  How are you doing?”  And then listen.

2.   If you want to help, here are some ideas:

  • Send a care package with snacks, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, nice lotion, gift card for e-books or paper books
  • Send money for gas, restaurants or lodging if the person lives far away from the NICU so they can see their baby
  • Offer to babysit their other children, watch their dog, water plants, clean their house etc
  • Tell them that they and their baby are in your thoughts and/or prayers as appropriate.  Even though I am not religious, the idea of hundreds of people sending positive energy to our family felt amazing.
  • Offer to bring a meal over – bring it in a disposable container and preferably food that can be frozen and easily reheated. Or better yet, offer to organize all the people who want to help by using a site like www.takethemameal.com
  • Once baby is home, don’t be pushy about visiting. The smallest cold for an adult can be life threatening to a premie.  Trust me, they would love to see you and introduce you to the baby.  And they will as soon as they recover from the trauma and feel comfortable.  If they are ready for visitors, be prepared to sanitize yourself before going near that baby.

I am 14 months out from this life changing event and I still don’t have my head fully wrapped around it.  I am sure I missed a ton of great resources and advice for a premie parent, so please feel free to share yours in the comments.  I am always looking for new ways to support my friends who are parents of premies.

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38 Comments

  • My wife and I have 2 premature kids and just finally had 1 full term. The doctors didn’t know why our first daughter came early (35 weeks) spending 1 week in the NICU. My wife became a little distant and just wanted to be left alone with her music. She kept asking why and she thought it was her fault. It took her 6 months to finally come back to being herself. I kept telling her that it wasn’t her fault. People kept asking well did she have the date right and why wasn’t your child full term. After we found out we were having our second child they were pretty sure that it would come early too. We did everything from prenatal and multivitamins to the pregnancy tea and staying off her feet but that didn’t help. Our second daughter came at 32 weeks. She was rushed right to children’s hospital for a few days then transported back to the hospital she was born at to spend the rest of her 4 weeks there. My wife was able to go home the next day after having her cause everything was perfect and our daughter wasn’t coming back to the hospital that day so she suggested we have some fun and to try not to think of our daughter being in Boston and not being able to see her for 2 days cause we had no way out there. Once we found out that we were expecting again her doctor said we had a 60% chance of another premie md recommended Makena. Our third daughter came 3 days before her due date. We did everything the way we did for our second with this one plus the shots weekly. Going from premie parents to full term was very different. It was very weird having both of them coming home at the same time. We have now have experience from both sides of childbirth. We couldn’t have said thank you enough to the NICU nurses for our first 2 daughters for looking after them while they stayed there. Now the oldest is 4 the middle is 3 and our newest one is 6 weeks.

  • Just wanted to say a quick thank you for this post and all the comments. You’ve really settled my anxiety about this. I’m currently pregnant with twins and am aware that a lot of multiples end up being born prem and spend some time on special baby units. Even though it’s not a certainty I feel like it’s better to be prepared for this eventuality. Thank you for making one soon-to-be-mummy a little bit less stressed xxx

  • [email protected] says:

    I had my 27 weeker almost two years ago. I highly recommend the "My Preemie" app for anyone in the NICU. It was a lifesaver for us, and such a fun way to document everything.

    And just because you had a preemie doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have another one. I had a 41 weeker just recently, thanks to progesterone injections! 🙂

    Great post, I enjoyed reading it, even though it’s been a while since I’ve been in the NICU.

  • I always worry that my preemie is not adequately developed and we’re going to discover some problem that will make her life more difficult. She’s currently 15 months and doing well (except for not saying any words at all so far). It took her seven months to laugh for the first time (compared to 3 months with my first). I constantly worry, even though there’s nothing to be done if there is an issue. And yes, I blame myself, even though I shouldn’t. This wasn’t helped by my midwife asking if I thought I overdid it in the hours before my water broke.

  • NICU mom to twins here!! Born at 31 weeks 1 day, mine were considered very large- 4 lbs, 7oz and 3 lbs, 12 oz.

    These were great points!! I want to add for twins- they may not come home the same day. Mine came home 2 days apart. But NICU won’t let you bring siblings up. Make sure you have help or a plan how to work it out.

    Also, be kind to the nurses! They are there to help.

    Great article!!

  • Great article. I wish I had read this 2 months ago when I had my preemie. I really needed to hear someone tell me that my low milk supply wasn’t my fault and that it was all ok.

    • Me too! My jaw dropped when I read that one – no one EVER mentioned this to me as a potential reason why I was having trouble with supply. Sigh.

  • Karleen adds: "one thing I would add is find a sister/mom/friend who you can delegate to send out email updates; it saves you from reliving whatever traumatic info you’re sharing 100 times or just saved you time from having to email pics to 100 people. You send it to them, they send it to the masses. I even had my sister fielding questions because I was so overwhelmed with Franklin’s, ehem, shenanigans in the early days. And because in between pumping, driving to the NICU, being in the NiCU, pumping, pumping and pumping, and stressing, and ugly crying all the way home from the NICU, there is not a lot of spare time!!"

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