My first baby arrived almost 2 months before her due date. We were expecting a spring bub, instead the snow was falling outside as Lula entered the world.
The early arrival of a baby leaves many parents feeling confused, scared, upset or even surprisingly calm (or maybe that’s just shock). The experience of a premature birth is as unique for each mum as is pregnancy itself. All of us hope to have the birth and newborn experience we have spent hours planning and dreaming about. However, each year approximately 15 million babies are born preterm–that’s about one in ten of all babies born worldwide. Hopefully, if your baby does decide they can’t wait 9 months to meet you, knowing a little of what you can expect will help.
Working it out
You know those final pre-baby weeks you had planned decorating the nursery? Well, if you go into labour at 7 months, straight after a hard days work–squeezing in time with a paint brush may not be high on your list of priorities. Luckily, you’ll be able to get a few essentials sorted (like a car seat to take them home in) while your tiny baby puts on a bit of weight in hospital.
Unless you want to be packing your hospital bag in between contractions, like I was, I would suggest making it a priority on your to-do list. A change of clothes, and comfy sleepwear thrown in a bag is a good minimum for emergencies.
What’s best for bub
Any plans for quiet home-births, water births, music or even a particular hospital will probably be wiped in the rush of a pre term delivery. Extra medical staff will be with you in labour (not that you’ll probably notice) all ready and waiting to help your baby the minute they arrive. Premature babies need to be where they can get special care immediately if they need it and most of them do, initially at least.
What! No Drugs?
Often in an early labour doctors are able to stop things temporarily with drugs which relax your contractions and give you steroids to help the babies lungs develop. Once the baby is on the way, however, they may come so quickly that there might not be enough time for pain relief. Don’t worry though, mum’s often experience super-human strength in labour and you may surprise yourself with how well you cope.
Hi Mum, Bye Mum
Depending on the hospitals policy and the health of your baby you may not get to see them for a few hours after birth, maybe not even until the next day. Sometimes you will be given a quick peek before your partner and baby are rushed up to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Often Dads will be allowed to stay with their babies while mum recovers in the labour ward. This will give you some time to have a relaxing shower and close your eyes for a bit while your baby gets a full check by the doctors.
Still cute as a button
Hairy, yellow and shiny are not words you would usually expect to use to describe your adorable newborn, unless of course they are a premmie. The earlier the baby arrives the less likely they will resemble a pink, chubby T.V. commercial baby.
A premature baby may have excess hair on their bodies, their skin may be extra wrinkly, thin and shiny, yellow or even slightly see through. Their cries are weak (actually quiet a bonus while it lasts!) and very early babies may have unusual looking features.
One mommy, Kahlea, experienced the NICU journey twice when her daughters were ill because of complications with the pregnancies. Her daughter Mia was born at 35 weeks and then, a few years later, Keeley was born at 33 weeks.
“All I wanted to hear was ‘Congratulations’ and ‘isn’t she beautiful’.” Kahlea says she wanted her friends to look past the tubes and see the beautiful baby under there.
I think the photos of my daughter in the hospital are made more precious, not less, by her tiny features and little feeding tube.
Bonding with your new baby may come easily but with all those tubes, extra people involved in care, incubators, tests and time apart from your baby, don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it challenging. When you get home try baby massage or kangaroo care (holding your baby naked against your bare skin under a warm shirt or blanket). Bathing with your baby and running your hands over their legs, arms and back is also a great way to bond.
Worries about your babies health are very common, and when a parent is faced by the reality of an unwell baby it can be very distressing. Difficulties with breathing, hearing, vision, heart, jaundice, immunity and reflux are common with prematurity. Thankfully, many problems will disappear as your baby grows. In the mean time, pick the nurses brains about the best care for your baby. Then, when it’s time to go home, you will be well armed to shield off advice from others about the latest greatest parenting techniques that just might not be great for your special bub.
Playing the Waiting Game
Babies stays at The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Special Care Nurseries range from one to two days to over 3 months. Although it may seem like an endless wait to get your little one home, there are benefits that come with a NICU experience.
Melissa, mum to Paige born at 34 weeks gestation, says “At first it was a bit scary with my bub in Special Care Nursery, but now I feel that my baby is well taken care of and I can visit any time I want. The hardest part was leaving the hospital without my baby.”
As scary as it can be to trust strangers with your baby, the 24 hour access to experienced nurses is incredible for first-time parents. Also, support from other parents in the unit, access to experts and resources on breastfeeding, and going home to a uninterrupted nights sleep are some big pluses.
At the milk bar
With your breasts attached to either some huge electric pumping contraption or a baby every twenty minutes or so, you can be excused for feeling like you have suddenly morphed into a two legged dairy cow. With weak sucking ability, premmie babies often take a bit of time learning to feed. If you want to breastfeed your baby then this is now your new full-time job, yes–even at 2am in the morning with only your portable breast-pump for company. At least you can listen to a podcast or read while you work!
World Prematurity Day is observed on 17 November.