How Do I Cope If My Baby Comes Early

premature baby

Premature birth can have a huge impact and while it’s natural to put your baby first, you also need to look after yourself.

No one expects to give birth before they’ve bought the baby
equipment, taken antenatal classes or started maternity leave.
But sometimes the unexpected happens. In the US, eight per cent of births are premature (before 37 weeks). It’s more
likely if you’re expecting multiples, but less likely if you’re carrying one baby and having a healthy pregnancy (just two
per cent of women in this group go into premature labour).

The reasons for early labour aren’t yet well understood. However, two of the most common causes of an unplanned
premature birth are infection, or a weakness in the cervix (the neck of the womb). About a quarter of premature births are planned early inductions or caesareans, due to some medical risk affecting either the mother or the baby. The earlier your baby’s born, the more likely he is to have health problems, and he may need to be cared for in a neonatal unit.

More than 80 per cent of premature babies born after 28 weeks survive and only a few have a serious, long-term disability. Babies born before 24 weeks are, sadly, much less likely to pull through.

While he’s in hospital
You need to recover from the birth and get your energy back. Get enough rest, have regular baths or showers, wear clean
clothes, drink plenty of water, eat well and get outside for a short walk when possible. If your baby needs to stay in hospital, once he’s stable you should be able to see him whenever you like.

Your first visit may be quite daunting. He may be surrounded by tubes, lights and monitors. Depending on how early he is, he may be small and thin, with red skin covered in soft down. As he develops he’ll start to look more like a full-term baby.

It’s normal to experience a range of different emotions when your baby is born prematurely. It often comes as a shock as all
your expectations were to have a baby in a few weeks’ time. Women can feel guilty and wonder if they did something wrong. But there are many reasons women have babies early and it’s very rarely down to something the mum did. It can also be a roller coaster ride emotionally, because the baby’s condition can change daily.

Don’t bottle up your emotions. Don’t say you’re fine if you’re not. Cry if you need to. Special care staff are used to this.”
Talk through your feelings with your partner or a close friend or relative. Speak to other parents in the unit (some units
have a support group or buddy system) and visit online forums. If your feelings become overwhelming, seek professional support. Ask your healthcare team for advice (some hospitals offer a counselling service), or talk to your GP or health visitor, who can help you to access counselling.

On a practical note, take ear plugs and an eye mask to the hospital to help you sleep; a notebook, to jot down questions
for the healthcare team; and magazines or an iPod so you can have a break. If your unit has wifi, a device with internet access will enable you to update family and friends, do research and join online support groups. Most units have a café, but bring food from home if you prefer. Units can be very hot, so bring plenty of fluids and dress appropriately. Wear comfy shoes. Accept all offers of help. Ask them to take on specific tasks, or meet you at the hospital for lunch and moral support.

Taking an active role
Even when your baby’s in hospital, there’s still lots you can do for him. ‘ Talk and sing to him He’ll be comforted by your voice. Make eye contact and show him different expressions.
Change his nappy
Let him hold your finger
‘Gently touch or stroke him

When he’s stable enough, skin-to-skin contact provides health benefits and will help you bond. Lots of units are keen to encourage this because the babies love it. Wear a big V-neck T-shirt so you can stay covered while your baby can go
next to your skin. You may be able to feed him. Breast milk is particularly good for early babies. Even if your baby’s too little to suckle, you can express milk so he can be tube-fed. Most units have expressing rooms and really good breast pumps.

Bringing him home
It’s the day you’ve been waiting for, but when it comes you may have mixed emotions. Bringing your baby home is a great joy, but can also be scary, particularly if he’s been unwell. If your unit has a family room, you should be allowed to ‘room in’ with him for a night or two before taking him home.

If you need to use special equipment, you’ll be trained. Don’t hesitate to call the healthcare team with questions or concerns. Your health visitor will support you, and you may also have home visits from specialist nurses if your baby has
continuing medical needs.

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