When cold and flu season hits, parents of premature babies can feel a lot of different emotions.
Anxiety is a common feeling, because a mom and dad with a premature baby will worry – and rightly so – about their little one catching a cold or the flu. For most people, these are simple illnesses requiring nothing more than a few days’ rest, but for preemies, they can literally be deadly.
Some parents feel extremely isolated because one of the most common ways they protect their preemies is to simply stay away from big groups and anyone who they suspect might be sick. In the autumn and winter, when colds and crowds are equally common, that can mean hunkering down in one’s house without a lot of social contact.
Additionally, preemie parents can feel hurt by friends and relatives who don’t really understand that premature babies, toddlers, and even children can require extra protections against colds, the flu, and other respiratory illnesses widespread in the colder months.
Being essentially housebound for months is a lot to cope with – and that is on top of having to deal with the everyday realities of prematurity.
So what can parents of premature babies (and toddlers and kids) do this autumn and winter to stay balanced and happy? Here are some tips:
- Be frank, when necessary. Explain to anyone who is being unsympathetic that preemies have underdeveloped immune systems and that even a minor cold can cause lasting or lifelong health problems in a preemie. Let them know it’s serious and that you’re not just being overprotective.
- Make sure everyone in your household washes their hands frequently. Your loved ones may not be sick, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring germs into your home. Make washing hands after outings a habit.
- When visiting is not an option, stay in touch. The holiday season can be especially stressful when your preemie’s health doesn’t allow you to participate in holiday activities. Do what you can to stay in touch virtually – mail cards, make phone calls, send emails, or keep a blog showcasing your family’s holiday traditions.
- Ask about the RSV prevention medication called Synagis. It’s not right for every premature baby, but your child may be eligible for the treatment.
- Get your flu shot and encourage everyone in your family to do the same. This is especially important for parents of preemies under 6 months old, who are too young for the flu shot. Until then, you are your baby’s first line of defense!
- If you do find yourselves housebound, make an effort to get out on your own a few times a month. Maybe you and your partner can trade childcare duties and each get a day off to spend how you wish. You’ll be happier if you don’t feel entirely isolated during difficult autumns and winters.
- Create new traditions! If your usual family traditions involved outings or visits, create new seasonal and holiday traditions that don’t involve going out. Hunkering down at home can be fun if you make the most of it!
What are your tips for coping with the unique realities of preemie parenting in the colder months?