Despite all the advanced in medical care over the last several decades, the number of babies born prematurely continues to rise. According to the March of Dimes, the numbers are up 36 percent over the last 25 years, and one out of every eight babies will be born too early. Thankfully, although medical advances don’t seem to be able to prevent the problem, they’ve greatly increased the survival chances of a premature baby.Technically, any baby born before 37 weeks gestation is considered a premature baby, but the chances of something going wrong if your baby is born three weeks early are pretty slim. The further away from your due date, the greater the risk of complications, with the greatest risk occurring in babies born before 26 weeks.
Tips for Coping When You Have a Premature Baby
Having a premature baby can put you through the wringer both emotionally and physically, especially if your baby is very early and requires serious medical interventions. While nothing short of taking your baby safely home with you is going to completely ease your mind, there are some things you can do to help get through your baby’s NICU stay.
- Let go of the guilt. This is easier said than done, but at least for now, let go of any guilt you may be feeling about your baby’s premature birth. It’s not your fault, no matter how much you think it is, and wallowing in “what if’s” isn’t going to change the fact that your baby is here now.
- Be involved in your baby’s care. Even if you can’t hold your baby yet, you can participate in his care. Ask the NICU nurses what you can do, be it changing his diaper or helping with his feeding in some way.
- Decorate the incubator. Most hospitals will allow you to decorate your baby’s incubator with family photos and other little touches that help you bond and feel more connected to your premature baby.
- Take pictures. You may think that you will just want to forget about the nightmarish NICU days, but take it from someone who has been there, those pictures will mean a lot to you as you watch your baby grow and thrive. Most NICU nurses actually encourage you to take photos.
- Remember, she’s still your baby. When your baby is cared for by nurses, doctors, and other medical staff, it’s easy to start feeling like she doesn’t even belong to you. Ask for frequent updates and make it clear that you would like to be involved in any decisions regarding her care.
- Learn the lingo- NICU nurses and doctors seem to speak their own language, and trying to guess what something means is never a good idea because your imagination usually comes up with something worse. If you don’t know what the nurse is talking about, ask.
- Get out of the hospital. Spending 24/7 in the NICU is not going to make your premature baby mature any faster, but it is a good way to run yourself down and drive yourself insane. Go home, sleep in your own bed, go grocery shopping, call your friends, just do something other than hovering two feet away from the incubator every second of the day.
There are good reads to help you through this journey
The Premature Baby Book : Everything You Need to Know About Your Premature Baby from Birth to Age One (Sears, William, Sears Parenting Library.)