Everyone who has become a mum knows that having a baby is hard. There is lack of sleep, learning to breastfeed, the changes to your body, as well as the changes in your relationship. Now imagine all of this with a premature baby in hospital.
A premature baby is defined as one born before 37 weeks gestation. In Australia, 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely.
Mums of premature babies are often thrown into this new world with little or no preparation. Often their baby is born in an urgent and stressful situation where the baby’s wellbeing is (justifiably) put first. But where does this leave the mum?
BY HAYLEY – PERFECTLY PREM
When our daughter was born 3 months early, I had no idea what was happening. My husband was overseas and the doctors told me that the pain was ‘normal’.
Two days later I was rushed to a local hospital and was merely hoping for pain relief – I still had not idea that I was actually in labour (I hadn’t been to an ante-natal class). Only two hours after we called the ambulance, our daughter arrived.
Depending on the gestation and condition at birth, many premature babies need to be transferred to a major hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They can stay there for months until they are big enough and strong enough to go home. This can add to the stress of a new mum as they are taken far from their home and their support network.
From this point on mums have to rely on someone else to care for their baby. They sit beside an incubator and watch their baby, waiting on a doctor or nurse to tell them it is ok to touch them. They set their watches by the hospital routine so that they can be there to hold the feeding tube or change a nappy. Every 3-4 hours they hook themselves up to a machine in order to express milk, with the hope of one day being able to breastfeed their baby. And every night, they leave the hospital empty handed, hoping the phone won’t ring with bad news in the middle of the night.
When this happens, friends and family of the new mum often have no idea how they can support them. This isn’t an everyday situation and they are at a loss as to what to do or say. But there are some really easy and simple ways that you can make a big difference.
Ask how their baby is THAT day
Sometimes when people don’t know what to say, they don’t say anything. But to the new mum, they are still a mum and they still want to talk about their baby. Ask them how their baby is doing that day. In NICU things change day-by-day, and even hour-by-hour, so asking how their baby is that day is a much easier question to answer.
Hold the space for them to talk
There is so much happening in the new mum’s life that they may have trouble processing it all. Be there to listen to them and just let them talk. While you may not understand exactly what is happening in hospital, listening can help the new mum to process their thoughts and feelings. Don’t tell them stories about other premature babies who have gone on to be strong and healthy unless you feel it is appropriate. Sometimes seeing that far into the future is just incomprehensible.
Take them outside the hospital environment for a while
Hospital can be an extremely stressful environment with alarms going off every few seconds. Mums are surrounded by highly emotional people and are forced to make highly emotional decisions. Getting out is vital to their mental health. Even a walk around the block can be beneficial. Don’t pressure them into going to far from the hospital, as often it is like they are tied to it by an invisible umbilical cord. New mums may also have to express milk so can’t be too far from a pump. Be mindful of the time and situation.
Respect their decisions
Premature mums make unbelievable decisions under immense pressure. It can be difficult for family and friends to comprehend these decisions, so refrain from making judgement. Read up on premature babies and pre-term birth. There is some great information out there for family and friends. This will help give you the smallest insight into what they are going through.
Cook for them
Sitting by your baby’s bed all day can be emotionally exhausting. Food and eating can seem like a massive chore however it is so important that these mums look after themselves. If you can, cook a meal and drop it off. It doesn’t even need to be fancy. Healthy and nutritious meals can make a world of difference and mean one less thing to think about every day. If you prefer not to cook, meal vouchers for food delivery services are also a great choice (Uber Eats, Youfoodz and others).
Look after their other children
As a first time mum this wasn’t something I had to worry about, however many mums do. This is especially stressful if mums are living away from home. Something as simple as picking the other children up from childcare or school can make a huge difference.
This isn’t something that most people would think about. Many parents have to drive to the hospital and pay for parking every day. This can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars over the course of a hospital stay. Contributing to this can help reduce financial stress.
Be mindful of gifts you give, remembering that it may not be used for many months. Due to infection risk, hospitals can be strict on limiting gifts that can stay with babies. Whenever possible choose organic and non-toxic as prem mums are extremely sensitive about what their babies can use. Gifts that support the new mum or help to establish a bond with the baby are perfect.
The prematurity journey doesn’t end with the hospital. Coming home can actually be the most stressful part as all of a sudden they are leaving the comfort of a place where their baby is safe. The responsibility now rests with the new parents. In addition, babies can come home with oxygen or feeding requirements, which can limit leaving the house. Premature babies also have a lower immune system than full term babies and are more susceptible to sickness. Understand that the new mum can’t (and may not want to) do everything when they get home. Leaving the house can be stressful and it may take awhile for this to change.
Perfectly Prem offers the perfect gift box for a new premature mum. It is full of self-care necessities that can be used straight away in hospital as well as including items that make the mum, feel like a mum. Visit www.perfectlyprem.com to see the range or follow Perfectly Prem on Facebook and Instagram.