The birth of a child is a wondrous, life-changing experience. It is a time of great joy and emotion, but it may also be a time of worries and questions. For the parents of premature babies, these worries and questions are amplified—from the moment of birth to the moment your child gets to come home. While at times you may feel overwhelmed, it may help to know that you are not alone.
For parents of neonates, knowledge is a key to helping with their children’s progress and growth. The more you know and understand about their needs, the more you can support them and the staff who help to care for them.
The good news is, we are here to help. We have a wealth of information, support, and resources to help you understand the process of caring for your newborn baby. You’ll find articles on everything from processes and systems in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to caring for your baby after you bring him or her home.
Learn more about prematurity, the NICU, your role and much more from clinicians and fellow parents.
Learn about the machines that are commonly found in the NICU. Get an introduction from a neonatologist and hear directly from fellow preemie parents.
Find out more about parents’ involvement and role in the NICU. Learn more about caring for your child and working with the nursing staff from clinical professionals and fellow preemie parents.
Prematurity is when your baby is less than 37 weeks old at the time of birth. A term baby is born at 38 to 42 weeks. A premature baby is usually not fully developed, meaning some vital organs might not be functioning at optimal levels. Some may not be ready to operate at all, which is why these babies are placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and cared for by specialists.
It is perfectly normal to be concerned about this delicate situation; you are not alone. Globally, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely each year and that number is rising. Over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia. The 10 countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, the United States, India and Nigeria, demonstrating that preterm birth is truly a global problem.1
1Source: 2012 Born too soon. The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth
As with full-term births, one thing is certain - you can expect anything. This is a new experience, one that all the reading and research in the world cannot fully prepare you for.
As with full-term births, one thing is certain—you can expect anything. This is a new experience, one that all the reading and research in the world cannot fully prepare you for.
As the parents of a premature baby, you will be faced with greater potential for complications than if your baby had been born full-term. Your baby will reside in the NICU if the doctor deems it necessary to monitor the health of your child. He or she will be sleeping most of the time, because all of the baby’s energy will be directed toward bringing the primary functions up to normal and ridding the body of harmful microorganisms.
You will spend a lot of time with your baby in the NICU. The journey will be long and hard, but it will give your baby the best chances for clinical care and professional support by specialists.
In some cases, your baby may be sick and require around-the-clock care, and may possibly experience one or more of the following complications:
Your child's organs, like the organs of other premature babies, may not have fully developed; some might not yet even function. In short, you can expect things to be harder than if your baby had been born full-term; however, you can also expect that in the NICU, everything is being done to ensure your baby's growth. In the NICU, you’ll have the aid and care of a dedicated, highly trained staff, as well as the most technologically advanced equipment.
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is where your newborn will stay for days, weeks, or possibly longer, depending on the baby’s degree of prematurity. This department or area in the hospital is where hospital staff care for newborns who have medical complications, or babies who have been born prematurely. Here, your baby will be provided with the optimal environment for growth.
And you can be right there the whole time. Though the environment in the NICU can be intimidating, health care professionals will familiarize you with it so you can participate in the care process.
When I was struggling through the NICU stay with my daughter Becky, I have to say I felt totally lost in ways to help her through all of that. Yet looking back now I realize my parent instinct was there all along. That is why I tell parents to always trust their gut on something either in the hospital or at home or in the school years.
While all of this is going on, moms are going through body changes, hormonal changes and role changes- dads definitely have the role changes, and are adapting to this new life (Board, 2004; Carter, Mulder et al, 2005; ) including not sleeping well and less personal self care. If you become overwhelmed, get help for yourself, with your own primary practitioner and/or your team, so you can be ready to take complete responsibility for this new person in your life. Remember that it is okay to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your baby.
One way you can take care of yourself is to access your community resources, including family and friends, faith community and neighbors to help you to be with your baby when you can.
Ask people to assist with:
If you are able to give up these tasks, you can focus on what you need to do, whether it is producing breast milk for your baby, kangarooing them or, being there for meetings with the team.
Deb Discenza, founder of PreemieWorld, and Jennifer Degl, author of From Hope to Joy, open up about taking care of their own emotional well-being as parents of preemies and encouraging other parents to not be afraid to ask for help when the emotional stress becomes too much. This could be during the time in the NICU with your baby or multiple years afterwards but be sure to take care of yourself so you can provide the best care for your child.