World Prematurity Day is marked every year on the 17th November. Before my son was born prematurely, I had no idea this day existed. But to be honest, I had no real awareness of prematurity either. Surprisingly, it was never once mentioned as a possibility during my antenatal appointments, despite the fact that 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely in the UK (source: Tommys.org).
This blog is predominantly a travel blog, but I also like to feature things and causes I care about. As a mum of a premature baby born at 25+6 weeks, I have shared much of our experience on Instagram under the hashtag #TravelistaPrematurity. But this year I wanted to share some (hopefully) impactful advice in case someone you know ever has a premature baby. From a mum who has lived through 109 days on the neonatal unit, here’s 6 ways to support a Mum of a premature baby.
How to support a Mum of a premature baby
1. Avoid toxic positivity phrases
You don’t always need to find something positive to say, especially for a situation as delicate and complex as having a premature baby. Sometimes ‘I can’t imagine how hard this is and I am here for you’ is enough. I received a lot of comments from well-meaning people, but they really hurt. They usually started with ‘at least’.
‘At least you won’t get any stretch marks’
‘At least the birth is done now’
‘At least you don’t have to deal with the third trimester’
I’d have taken stretch marks and the discomfort of the third trimester over having a premature baby any day. How can they even be compared? None of these phrases are helpful and do not acknowledge that the Mum may feel that she has been robbed of her pregnancy and the positive birth she hoped for.
2. Respect her boundaries
We are all unique individuals and we all deal with stressful situations differently. Some may lean on friends and family more intensely, others may shut themselves off. However Mum is choosing to deal with the stress and trauma of having a premature baby, respect her boundaries. You could offer to visit her, or take her for a coffee somewhere near the hospital, but don’t be offended if she declines. Send her messages of encouragement, but don’t feel put out if she doesn’t text back. She probably just has zero mental energy left to take that on. Go at her pace and don’t take things personally.
3. Send her food, fuel or a care package
It’s possible that Mum has very little appetite and it’s probably safe to say that her own self care has gone out of the window. Sending her a home cooked meal or putting together a little care package is a way to support her from a far, and also a way to remind her to look after herself.
One thing I appreciated more than anything whilst on the neonatal unit with my son, was that my Dad would always bring some homemade soup and lasagne to heat up on the unit. I had no appetite, but it always made a welcome change from the bland microwave meals and basic canteen food I was forcing myself to eat. My friend also ordered a box of brownies once with a note that said something like ‘to keep up your energy levels’. It was so simple, but it was really thoughtful and meant so much. She was supporting me and cheering me on from a far, and sending the brownies was also a reminder that I had basic needs.
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4. Be sensitive to certain baby gifts
I was the Mum of a very poorly baby under 2lb, opening up baby grows in 0-3 months. They looked utterly ginormous and the matching hats looked like they could cover a football. Without sounding ungrateful, it just rubbed salt into a very open wound.
As general advice, I would say to hold off on gift-giving for baby until they are close to being discharged or even at home. You can show your support in other ways (such as in the above paragraphs). If the baby is very unwell, it is hard to receive gifts on their behalf when you don’t even know if they’re going to survive. If you do want to gift clothing for baby, make sure it is in an appropriate size. Places like JoJo Maman Baby and Tu Clothing do premature baby clothing. Nice alternative gift ideas for baby would be a personalised blanket, muslins or a sensory book. It’s worth knowing that soft toys are not allowed in incubators due to infection control.
Scroll down to see my gift ideas for parents of a premature baby
5. Be aware that the stresses of having a premature baby do not end at discharge
You can best support Mum by having an awareness that coming home with a premature baby is very different to coming home with a term baby. From the moment they baby was born they have been under professional medical care.
Everything has been medicalised and on the day of discharge, it feels like you’re suddenly set free into the ‘outside world’. Parents can feel a huge amount of pressure and responsibility on discharge and going home is a huge adjustment for them after weeks or months in hospital. Again, be sure to respect their boundaries and don’t expect the needs of their baby to be parallel to that of a healthy baby born at term.
6. Look out for signs that she may be struggling with her mental health and provide sign posts if needed
Mums of premature babies are at substantially higher risk of conditions like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I scored a hat-trick with all three. Dad (or the non-gestational parent) is also at risk of struggling with his mental health too. Try to check in with both parents to see how they are doing with their mood and general wellbeing.
7. Consider Dad’s (or the non-gestational parent’s) needs too
Being the Dad (or non-gestational parent) of a premature baby comes with its own set of pressures and they’re the person in the equation who is most likely to be overlooked. Often they feel as if they are the one who needs to ‘stay strong’ for Mum and baby. Are they having to cope with returning to work? Are they dealing with loneliness and stress? Considering Dad’s needs and pressures too will help you to support the couple as a whole.
8. Educate yourself about prematurity to best support your loved one
The biggest misconception about premature babies is that they simply need time to grow. This isn’t the case. Premature babies have a huge amount of health challenges to overcome as their bodies simply aren’t ready for the outside world. They have to go through a lot of daily invasive procedures to help them reach a point of stability. Generally, they earlier they are born the more health issues they face and the longer the hospital admission. But regardless of gestation at birth, premature babies can go on to thrive and live a full, healthy and happy life. They truly are little miracles.
Having a premature baby is a life-changing experience that parents are forever-changed by. Knowing that your friends and family are there to support you, however that looks for each individual, means a huge amount. Even just by reading this article you will have gained so much more awareness about prematurity and an understanding of how to support a Mum of a premature baby. For that, I thank you!
Why not share this article with someone else it may come in handy for?
Gift ideas for a Mum of a premature baby
- Miracles and Shining Stars book – a collective of voices from the neonatal ward – £6.99 This is the book I wish I could have read this book whilst my son was in the NICU. It is a collective of poems contributed by Mums, Dads, nurses, doctors and grandparents who have been on the neonatal unit. I have contributed a poem and the Foreword to this book and proceeds go to charities Bliss UK and Sands UK. It is something I am very proud to be involved in.
- By the time you came home; a keepsake story for your premature baby – £8.99 paperback A beautifully written book for parents to talk about the neonatal experience with their child, with space to personalise and add photos of their own journey
- Specialist premature baby clothing from George at Asda, Tu Clothing or JoJo Maman Baby Find sleepsuits, vests and hats for babies at 2lb and up.
- A customised care package for Mum from dontbuyherflowers.com
- Order a box of brownies by post from badbrownie.co.uk
- A personalised blanket with baby’s name and date of birth from myfirstyears.com