My daughter was six weeks premature. My waters broke at thirty two weeks, and two weeks later she arrived. Until that point, everything was normal, From that point, things got very scary very quickly. There are lots of things I wish I’d known about having a premature baby, not just immediately but the further reaching things too. She’s fifteen months old now, and I’m still learning more things I wish I’d known. And I know from speaking to other prem baby mums that I’m not alone. So, if you happen to be a mum to a precious premature baby, first of all, you have all my good wishes and hugs, and second, here is my list of things I wish I’d known.
1. The first time you see your child properly they may in an incubator with a tube down their throat.
Nothing can really prepare you for this. The staff didn’t tell me, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ll never forget seeing her so vulnerable and tiny, surrounded by so many wires and cables. If you have to go through this too, I’m so sorry. Cry if you need to. I did.
2. It will break your heart to see other babies going home while yours is still in the Neonatal Unit.
I know this because it broke mine. What did those parents do that was better than me? Why is their baby not poorly? I did everything right, this wasn’t in the plan. Again, I’m sorry, and again, cry if you need to. Your baby will be able to go home with you soon enough, I promise.
3. When you do get home, it will be terrifying. There are no nurses constantly available to help you.
But you’ll be fine. You will. And you can call 111 or your midwife or your Neonatal Outreach Nurse if you have one. But you’ll be ok, really. You’re a good mum. And it’s ok to be scared.
4. Breastfeeding can be difficult to establish.
It can be hard enough with a term baby. But with a prem baby, it can be even harder. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but they have such tiny mouths, and like my daughter, they may need to be taught to suckle. They may also need to be tube fed initially, and then possibly also bottle fed if you’re unable to be there round the clock. But that’s ok too. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You can express, or you can use formula. If you can breastfeed, then fantastic. But you haven’t failed if you can’t. As long as they’re feeding, that’s the main thing.
5. They have a higher chance of developing reflux.
Their little bodies find it harder to keep food down, as the sphincter at the top of the stomach can often not be strong enough to prevent food coming back up. There can also be other causes too. And it will worry you. If they are sick quite a bit and you think it could be reflux, my best advice to you is log and document everything – when and how much they eat, when and how much they’re sick, any meds, everything. It will make life much easier for you when dealing with healthcare professionals. And do push if you need to. You’re the mum, and your instinct should be trusted. It took us ten weeks to get a diagnosis, and a further ten months to find a way to control it. It will get better, I promise.
6. You have a higher chance of developing PND.
Or any other Post Natal Mood Disorder, for that matter. Not to say that you will, but it is a possibility. You may have had a traumatic birth, you may have not seen your newborn until they were several hours old, you may have had difficulty bonding. Any of these things and a thousand more can affect your mental health. Make sure that you take care of yourself as well as your tiny baby. I know it’s hard when they so needy, but you also need to be looked after. If you suspect that you may be suffering, or you’re not in a good place mentally, please, get help. Speak to your midwife, your health visitor, your local children’s centre, your gp, anyone who’ll listen. You haven’t failed, and this is not your fault. It is not a sign of weakness. You are still a good mum, no matter what that voice in your head says. You are.
7. You may have to wean them early.
Prem babies are born with less good stuff in their gut as it has not had chance to mature. So they are likely to need to be weaned earlier in order to replenish those stocks. In the case of my daughter, reflux complicated things further so we starting weaning at seventeen weeks (under consultant and dieticians orders). It was a bit hard to start with, but we got there. And you will too.
8. You may resent your friends with full term babies, and they may not understand what you’re going through.
This is very normal. Just remember, as much as it wasn’t your fault that your baby was premature, it wasn’t their fault that their baby was term. So often, it’s just luck of the draw. Try not to take it out on them. And if you’re having a bad time, explain it to them. You are likely to have to go through things they have not even considered. I’m sure that a little explanation will go a long way. They may prove to be a tower of support when you need it.
9. They are likely to have a compromised immune system, until they are at least two.
This means that routine childhood illnesses may affect them worse than full term babies, it may mean that they catch more colds and viruses, or it may mean that they are more at risk of complications when they are ill. Or, as in the case with us, they could have a perfectly fine immune system with the only side effect being you having a complete panic and freak out every time they get a rash or a bout of vomiting. Which, again, is normal. Try and calm down a bit if you can. They’ll likely be fine.
10. They could be behind their peers in terms of development.
My daughter is the only baby of her age in our group that isn’t walking. But that’s ok, she’ll get there. In the meantime, I am enjoying not having to run round as much as my friends do! The majority of prem babies are fully caught up by the time they are three. And at four you’d be hard pushed to pick out the preemie.
11. You may not want any more kids.
Hey, that’s absolutely your choice. I get it. I don’t want anymore myself. There’s no way I am prepared to potentially go through that again. And if you do want more, again, that’s your choice. But you shouldn’t feel bad for either one, whatever your reasons are.
12. Your experience could be totally different to mine.
I am not intending that this a ‘this will definitely happen.’ It’s more, ‘this is what happened to us.’ You may not have my experiences. Yours may be worse, it may be better, it may just be different. But this is ours, mine and my sweet girl’s, and if it helps even just one mum who struggling then I’m glad. Please know that whatever your experience, you are not alone. I know that it’s hard, but there are people who can help you, and people who will understand you. Do speak to your healthcare professionals if you need to. And cry if and when you need to, too. Premature birth can be deeply traumatic, and can take a long time to heal from. I know. I’m still getting there.