How to support a parent with a prem
When I worked in the United Kingdom I had the eye opening, emotional experience of caring for newborn twins while they were in NICU - helping the parents that I was employed by to nurse their baby toward the day of going home. It was a humbling, learning curve for me that I will never forget and will always feel fortunate to have been apart of, so when I discovered the website Earlybuds I was very touched with how perfectly thoughtful it is for parents, or friend of parents that have had a prem birth. I am thrilled therefore to be able to share some of their information on my blog and lead you to more if you need.
Written by Earlybuds...
When someone you know suddenly has a premature baby, you may find yourself wondering how to react, especially if the baby is particularly early, small or unwell. But more importantly how can you support them in this precious time. Here are a few suggestions
Celebrate the Birth
Celebrate the birth of their baby as you would if the baby was full term by sending a card, gift, or flowers as you intended. Despite all the worries associated with their early arrival, this baby is very special and very much loved.
Send a card as soon as possible
Don’t wait until the baby comes home to send a card (although you could always send a “welcome home” card then too). If you buy a card, be sensitive and choose one without a picture of a big fat full term baby on it.
Some people worry about sending a congratulations card because they are not sure if the baby will live. However most prem babies do survive, and in the awful circumstances where a baby does not come home, the parents will really treasure those first congratulations cards as it gives life to the memory of their little one.
Good gift ideas
FOR MUM: nice hand cream, as she will be washing them many times a day while expressing and at the hospital; a small photo album so she can carry photos of her baby with her; something to read (not baby-related) while she’s expressing.
FOR BABY: anything you might normally give a full-term baby (as they will still need it when they get home). There is not a lot of room in the hospital nursery for more than a couple of personal items such as soft toys, so don’t be offended if the parents leave your gift at home. If you’d really like to buy a prem-sized outfit, try searching online or if you live in New Zealand, try Pumpkin Patch or The Baby Factory- they sell a small number of 000000 and 00000 sized outfits. Outfits should be extremely easy to get into while attached to a monitor. Don’t buy anything with covered feet as the hospital environment is quite warm and the baby may also need a monitor attached to their foot. Generally speaking, the earlier the baby is born, the longer they stay in hospital. Many prems born very early (30 weeks gestation or less) leave hospital near their due date, and may be the size of a regular newborn by that time.
FOR THE FAMILY: A home-cooked meal will be a lifesaver, but also remember that meals do not have to be homemade! A couple would enjoy a takeout meal from the local Chinese restaurant or pizza place just as much as a homemade casserole. Canned soup, frozen pizza and bagged salad are still food! Too much food is a good problem to have! When you bring a meal, also bring paper products like cups, napkins, plates and bowls. Not having to do dishes is a godsend for parents with limited time at home.
Check before visiting
Don’t rush to visit your friends in hospital the first week after the baby is born without checking that they want visitors first. They may be spending a lot of time in the NICU or special care nursery, where visitors other than parents are not really encouraged. Let them know you are happy to meet up when they have time, even if it’s just for a coffee in the hospital cafe, or after they bring their baby home. Don’t even think about visiting if you are unwell - even a common cold can make a premature baby critically ill, and if your friends catch a cold they will be unable to visit their precious little bundle in hospital.
Stay in touch after the first week
Do keep in touch via phone, text messages or email, or via someone who is closer to them than you, so that they know you are there and thinking of them as the days or weeks go by - and let them know that you don’t always expect a reply. Your friends may not have a lot of time to spend with you while their baby is in hospital, but it can be a lonely and stressful experience and they will really appreciate that you are thinking of them and have not been forgotten about after the first week has passed.
Offer some practical assistance
Having to leave your baby in hospital, expressing milk via a pump every 3 hours, coping with a complete change to your plans for birth - having a premature baby is emotionally and physically exhausting and also very time-consuming, when you can’t just stay home and recover but have to commute to see your baby every day. You can help the family of a new premmie by:
- cooking them a meal, either to eat now or put in the freezer - or giving them any vouchers you have for local restaurants. They won’t have much energy for cooking proper meals for themselves.
- babysitting an older child for a couple of hours a week, maybe in the evening so the parents can go to the hospital together
- taking their dog out for a walk, washing their car or watering their gardens
- helping with their housework or laundry, especially if they have other kids
- asking for a list and doing their grocery shopping
- giving them a lift to the hospital during the day - it will save them the trouble of having to find parking, and you can have a bit of a chat at the same time
- bring magazines for the parents to read while they are at the hospital
- offer to return phone calls, email photos of the baby and give updates to family, friends and neighbors who may be asking for information
Admire their baby photos. When you have the opportunity, ask if you can see photos of the baby, and offer positive comments about them even if they look strange to you. This means a lot to the parents, who already see and love the strength and beauty of their child despite the tubes and wires.
Don’t forget the baby shower. If you were planning to hold a baby shower for your friend, go ahead with your plans. A good time to hold it would be a week before the baby is due home from hospital.
Earlybuds send out free prem packs and offer a fantastic resource of information on their website www.earlybuds.org.nz
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Thank you to Rima for sharing your photo with us for this blog.