Being a mom or dad of a preemie can be difficult at any stage of a child’s life, but it’s particularly challenging in the first few days, weeks, and months after birth when parents are still adjusting to the family’s new reality. The NICU, after all, is a strange and disconcerting place for most people. Prematurity can come with long-term consequences that are difficult to predict. And the extreme chasm between the expectations and realities of parenthood after prematurity can cause stress and anxiety.
Often, the best resource for new parents of preemies is an experienced preemie parent who can answer questions and offer comfort in difficult moments. Moms and dads frequently connect with each other on our Facebook page, but sometimes finding that special person to talk to isn’t as easy as logging on. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of things our followers have said they wish they’d known in those early days of prematurity.
- The NICU is right where a premature baby should be. When it hurts to see your little one surrounded my medical equipment, try thinking of that isolette as your baby’s surrogate womb.
- Treat your nurses well – first step: learn their names – and they’ll be more apt to respect your wishes and listen to your concerns. If disagreements regarding care do arise, try to come to an agreement that works for everyone – especially for your baby.
- You may feel resentful toward your baby’s nurses, especially when it feels like they spend more time with him or her than you do. But no matter what, that is your baby no matter who is doing the most diaper changes.
- Learn to say no, and learn early. Maybe you have to tell people “No visitors” or that, no, you won’t be making it to that big Christmas party. Or you may find yourself having to advocate for your baby’s health by saying no to a nurse. No can become a sanity saver.
- No one in your life knows the right words to say to new parents of preemies or moms and dads who have received a painful diagnosis. There are no right words, honestly. Be compassionate with those who try to say something comforting but end up saying something awkward.
- There aren’t many upsides to a NICU stay, but there are some, like potentially being able to sleep through the night after your baby’s birth and learning the ropes of infant care from the pros. Find your own bright spots.
- Kangaroo care is amazing. You may have to wait before you can practice kangaroo care with your baby, but once you get the go-ahead, give it a try!
- Whatever happens, remember that you are not at fault for your baby’s prematurity. Trying to figure out if something you did or ate or didn’t do or didn’t eat is a waste of time and emotional energy.
- Be in the NICU when you can – and by can, that means when it’s practical and when you can handle the stress – but don’t beat yourself up when you can’t be there. Your baby will know when you’re there, but the NICU days aren’t the be all end all of bonding.
- Don’t worry about timelines, especially when it comes to making the transition home. When the doctors and nurses in the NICU give you an estimated release date, it’s just that – an estimate.
- You may feel like you’re living day to day as you ride the NICU rollercoaster. Do what you have to do to not only survive, but also to make it through this challenging period with your health and wellness intact. Don’t neglect yourself.
- Take pleasure in the small ways you can interact with your baby. Read a book or sing your favorite lullaby whenever you visit the NICU. Participate in your baby’s care as much as is allowed. If nothing else, a simple touch session – even if it’s just
cradling your baby’s head in your hand – can do wonders for your baby and for you.
- Try not to let regret or guilt get in the way of your relationship with your preemie moving forward. It’s totally natural to feel some sadness when you look back on your baby’s time in the NICU but moving forward will help you forge new, happier parenting memories.
Are You Interested in Sharing Your Prematurity/Premature Birth Story?
We’re excited to start featuring more profiles of preemie parents on our blog and to introduce you to some of the cool things our supporters are doing to help us help moms and dads of preemies. Would you like to share your story right here on our blog? It’s a simple way to show new parents of preemies that they are not alone in what they are experiencing and to give them hope. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.