My beautiful friend had a premature baby this week. It occurred to that while I know all about full term babies having had one myself, I didn’t know how the experience of a premature baby compared and contrasted to my own experience. I wondered:
1. Are the issues for new mums of prems and full term babes the same?
2. Are the overwhelming emotions felt when you see your baby for the first time the same?
3. What about the support? Do new mums or prems require different types and levels of supports than full term mums?
Given my self-proclaimed ignorance, I put a Call Out. I asked over 1000 prem mums for advice on what it was like as a prem mum, and what the best advice is for other new prem mummies.
I received an overwhelming response!!*
I am both humbled and honoured that so many women have trusted me and Canberra Mummy readers with their stories, and are willing to support other mums through their valuable advice.
What did I learn through this process? Just as premmie babies are resilient and strong-willed little beauties, mums of premmie babies are beyond Super Mums. They are strong, intelligent, empathic, supportive, and have demonstrated exactly what it means to be a mum!
I am in awe and admiration of these amazing and incredible women.
Thank you to all the mums who shared their story with me…
“I’d say my best advice for preemie mum’s would be a combination of a few things. Be present, be patient, be kind to yourself and to your baby’s carers. Aside from you at this early stage, they really are the best possible babysitters for your early babe. I called it ‘a gentle introduction to parenting’, because they were there every step of the way for feeding, changing, bathing, evening cuddling with skin to skin. By the time we came home I felt really comfortable, knowing that we’d learnt about each other, that I’d learnt how to ‘be’ with him without being stressed about the small stuff and I wasn’t so daunted. See those days as not only your babe getting stronger, but as an opportunity to get to know each other with an even more incredible base of support than your close family and friends. Everyone in the NICU and Special Care Nurseries is there for you! The next biggest tip is don’t let anyone tell you that just because your baby is early that you can’t breastfeed if you want to. It was not an easy road, that’s for sure, but we were determined and I listened to all of the advice I could and pumped, gave my milk through NGT and later struggled through using a nipple shield for two weeks when we were first home until we gently shrugged it away. There were tears over the first six weeks (and more!), but it was really important to us that we persevere and two years later we are still feeding, though coming to the end of a beautiful parenting journey by following my toddler’s lead.” – Kate
“Try not to feel guilty, know that you will find the strength to get through each day, talk to other parents they will become new friends accept help from friends, take time out for yourself and don’t rush your bub, go at their pace and enjoy every kangaroo cuddle. and take lots of pictures because you very quickly forget how small they were” – Caroline
“Two things I remember is “your time will come when you take your precious baby home” and “you can and will get through this” there will be many days/nights you will feel like you can’t,and almost feel like not turning up another day at the hospital because of pressure and stress BUT you will go in each day and night because you are strong” – Jenna
“My son was born at 33 weeks with hypertension, a PDA and had a lumbar puncture @ 10 days old… He is now 4 1/2 years old and fighting fit! Our paediatrician calls him the poster child for premmie babies!!” – Melissa
“Our little man had a month in special care at both Calvary & TCH Be kind to yourself. Some days will be bad but there’s always hope tomorrow will be that much better … Talk to other mums too, they are great helpers… The other things I forgot to mention that helped me were starting a journal and getting involved with bubs care. I stayed with our little man 24/7 (I basically didn’t give them a choice but also wasn’t needed elsewhere) as it was empty I stayed in the rooming in room and slept 3 hrs a night and would journal about the day. I look back now amd didn’t realise I was a strong as I am. X” – Elouise
“My daughter was born at 35 weeks, was on oxygen for 10 days and remained in SCN for 21 days! The hardest was the day we had to leave her in the hospital! But hospital is the best place for your preemie baby so trust the doctors and nurses and talk to the other prem mums… They were the best support! Now Indie is 17 months, strong, confident and reaching all her milestones!” – Heidi
“Take a day a time! Bubs will be home with you soon enough but for now they are where they need to be! Don’t be afraid to shed a tear and say yes to hugs and help from friends and family! X” – Emily
“Remember to breath and take time out for yourself!!! Got to dinner with partner or take an afternoon off – you will need it!!! It is tiring sitting around waiting!!! Good luck!!” – Leigh
“My son was born 33 weeks at 1.7kg. Leaving him in hospital was the hardest thing for me. He was in the NICU/SCN for 5 weeks. I was able to successfully express for all his feeds and continue to breast feed. If it is something you want to do, know that its possible. Know that bub is being cared for by world class medical professionals in fantastic facilities. Fast forward 5 years. My tiny prem is now a vibrant, bright little boy with that can wear out the Duracell bunny any day of the week. He’s about to start kindy and gives as good as he gets in the playground. My advice is more for later down…while other children are meeting their milestones, don’t let yourself get anxious if bub is not quite there yet. Its easier said than done especially for first time parents. Remember, Steven Hawking/Einstein may not have been an early roller, walker, talker or eater or even a late one (I don’t know)…yet they certainly are brilliant. There is no race to reach milestones…they will do it in their own time. Edit: I also told friends and family that we preferred no visitors while bub was in hospital. It gave me the space to feel what I was feeling and let my self be vulnerable in a situation I couldn’t fix our control.” – Andrea
“My bub was born at 34 weeks. It was very unexpected and at the time I felt very isolated and alone… It was hard because one minute I was pregnant, about to finish work (I still had 2 days left of work when I gave birth) and I was looking forward to the final 6 weeks of rest before bub was due. The next minute, I’ve got an empty belly and empty arms Everyone kept telling me that bub was in the best place, and logically, you know that! But emotionally, it all felt so wrong! The best advice I can give would be to not be afraid to stay there for as long as you like, whether that be all day, or just for an hour. I found a lot of friends/family wanted to visit us in Special Care, and I found it hard to say no… but that time while they’re so little and in the Nursery is for them to grow and get strong, and they need quiet and lots of kangaroo cuddles with mum… so doesn’t be afraid to ask the nurses to tell everyone else to back off on the visits if you don’t feel you’re able to say no. And Kangaroo Cuddles – they were my saviour… that was something no one else could do for my bub – it was me he needed, he already knew my smell, my sound, my touch, and this just made me feel like I was doing everything I could to make him better quicker. And finally, have faith – your baby will get stronger, and bigger, and healthier and one day, in the not too distant future, your baby will be well enough to come home with you!” – Efsevia
“My daughter was born at 35 weeks (but we were very lucky to make it that far along) and she is now 19 months and apart from being a little short you would never know she was born early. She was in scn (Canberra and Calvary) and im not going to lie those 3 weeks were very hard, but it’s all worth it on the end. Advice… I always saw it as much a negative, but towards the end my husband said I should think about it and to enjoy the time you wouldn’t have otherwise had with bub, which actually made me feel a bit better. don’t be afraid to ask the hospital staff questions Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take lots of photos Try and talking to some of the other families, they can be a great support. I wish you and bub all the best.” – Kimberley
“Hello my name is Nicole and my baby girl was born at 33weeks. Spent a week in an incubator in NICU and another 3 weeks in SCN with a few days here in the incubator. She is now 21 months old and you would never know she was prem the same goes for my niece who was also about the same gestation. I personally stayed with my girl the whole time was great when admitted to the hospital still as didn’t feel as bad leaving her for a few hours sleep at night then heading back to express by her bedside. The hardest think was leaving her the first night I was going home I think my partner dragged me out at 10pm and I cried all night. I was at the hospital everyday I would get there at 8ish and leave when my partner couldn’t stay awake so 8-9pm was the longest month of my life. I would do everything that needed to be done nappies, bed change, temp and then once I she was stronger I done everything instead of the nurses whilst there. You will get some tell you to go home you don’t need to be there all day everyday but it is up to you and also some will have limits on how long you can hold your baby but if no serious issues with bub it can be for as long as you like. If you wish to talk or ask questions please PM me and happy to chat. It is hard and takes so much not to cry everyday but you are strong and soon will have bub at home. I do know how you are feeling and when other say that you just want to punch them in the face as they have not been there and don’t know how hard it is to leave your baby behind Good luck xxxx” – Nicole
Nicole kindly provided some very helpful tips for new mums of prems too:
- “Doctors come through every morning and goes over bub’s chart and any issues you/they may have good to be there to hear what they think as this is the only time you see the doctors
- Advise the nurse the babies will be wearing own clothes once out of incubator they will then place a note advising all staff of this in each bed you will need to have a few sets spare in case
- I would have own wraps too as they didn’t seem to have many and would always run out
- Write name on all items even if just last name and leave in cupboard provided
- Clothes that are easy to get on and off as for feeding tube and foot monitors. I would buy only a few 6 x 0 and the rest 5 (will be a little big but will depend how much weight is gained each week)
- Don’t worry about singlets just yet as all the moving of getting them dressed will make them really tired ( easier once feeding tube is out as going over the head)
- Small Beanies to keep warm once in open room ( they do have knitted ones so can always use them)
- If you want to allow other ppl there when you aren’t ask the nurse to write a note on front of bubs notes book ( e.g. nan sister)
- It is really hard to leave them but in Special care ( next stage once out of incubator )they have camera’s above the bubs bed so can log on and see bub’s should be 24 hrs. by now ( can give the log in to others to see as well)
- Some nurses will advise bub can only be out for an hour a day once out of incubator but most young ones will leave them with you it’s the older ones and Indian ones that are strict and will say something
- Depending if you are there heaps I did everything myself so nurses didn’t have to do anything whilst I was there with bub this meant I could have cuddles all day and once of monitors were off I brought pram in and went for walks to cafeteria just advise nurse your leaving.
- Once in special care you can learn to tube feed bubs this will get you home earlier if they still have them in
- Advise the nurse what feeds you will be there for so you can either breast/tube feed”
*Please note: If you’re reading this because you’re in this situation, please remember that babies can be classified as prem any time before 37 weeks gestation. While the classification of ‘premature’ is the same, the needs of a baby born at 30 weeks is going to be vastly different to the needs of a baby at 36 weeks. The reason I’m making this point? I don’t want you to worry over what your experience with your prem baby. You’re going through enough already, this advice is to guide you and to let you know that you’re not alone… support is here and readily available!!
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