The moment a mother finds out her unborn child may be premature is something she’ll never forget. Sure, she’s heard the sad stories and the long nights moms and dads had to put in at the NICU, but all those tips go right out the window when a woman is now in the same position. But how could this happen?
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why a baby may be born prematurely, and it’s not necessarily a mother's fault either. Things happen in the womb!
Regardless of how a family got to this point, the NICU is a quick-moving place where parents need to be patient. There’s no rushing a newborn’s health and development. And while a mother may feel like she’s been told everything there needs to know about her prized preemie, there are a ton of thoughts and questions that moms don’t always blurt out. Whether it’s due to embarrassment or intimidation, these are 20 things parents of premises may still need to be made aware of (along with their own child’s condition). When in doubt, though, ask questions. That’s what nurses and doctors are for, and they like when parents want to know the ins and outs of their child’s recovery.
20 Signs That A Mother May Have A Premature Birth
Although mom may be having a fairly easy pregnancy, there are small signs a mom may deliver earlier than expected.
A woman could be having early contractions unexpectedly, and just pass the feeling off as gas or the baby moving. She may be having the urge to go number two, which is a clear sign that your body is trying to get rid of excess waste to make room for the baby. On top of that, she may even experience lower back pain and pressure on her pelvis — and no, it’s not her body’s way of making room in the bump, it’s the baby trying to make its way out of the bump.
If a woman is experiencing any of these signs. Call the doctors immediately.
19 Moms May Not Be Able To Hold Their Baby Right Away
As if having to deliver the baby early wasn't harrowing enough, now a new mom might not be able to hold her baby right away. While we see moms doing skin-to-skin to their babies in the NICU, that's not always possible right after birth. A woman over at S. Mommy explained her story of being in the NICU, and she didn't understand why nurses got to hold her little one but she couldn't.
A few days later, this mama was able to hold her baby for 10-15 minutes a time "because his body temperature could drop." On those days where his levels were off, mom just had to sit tight until the baby was ready.
18 When You're Discharged But Your Baby Isn't
Something that most women don't think about is once the doctors tell them they can be discharged from the hospital, that doesn't mean their baby can. Unfortunately, instead of bringing that sweet baby home in a blanket, mom and dad would have to go home empty-handed. And while nurses and doctors encourage mom and dad to go home to shower and rest, most parents ignore this advice and stay near their preemie, as to not miss a beat. While this behavior is commendable, staying around the NICU can be taxing on a new parent. They need to rest both physically as well as mentally so that they can be fully there for their little one.
17 It's More Common Than You Think
Sadly, it seems premature births are more common than most moms think. A Verywell Family explained that 450,000 babies are born in the US every year too soon. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon. So while a mom may feel her lowest knowing her child didn't have enough time to cook in the oven, she's not alone. In fact, NICUs have only gotten better, and the families surrounding premature births are only getting stronger. There's plenty of groups parents can join to vent, grieve, and listen in on, and there are articles like these that can inform a new mom in case these things unintentionally happen.
16 Skin-To-Skin Is Even More Important With A Preemie
One of a mom's biggest hopes is to hold their baby once they're born. Nine months is a long time to feel and bond with your baby without seeing them. But when a baby is premature, the urge to hold their child is even greater.
Most parents understand how important skin-to-skin contact is, but for mothers of premature babies, that's not always possible. As a Verywell Family says, "Skin-to-skin contact stabilizes your baby’s heart rate and oxygenation, and it improves sleep." But when a baby is born too early, having skin-to-skin contact with their parent may not be deemed as safe.
15 The NICU Floor
When a new mom hears her baby is going to be a preemie and needs to be in the NICU, she's only thinking about the safety of her child; she's not necessarily thinking about what the environment will be like for her as she's waiting for her little one to gain some strength. As one mom noted at S. Mommy, "To make matters worse, they put the mothers of babies in the NICU on the mother/baby floor, so all night I got to hear cries of all these babies who were healthy and safe with their mothers." Meanwhile, all mothers of preemies can do is sit and wait until their baby is healthy enough to be held and out of the incubators.
14 Don't Like Your Nurse? Ask For A New One
Most babies in the NICU are assigned to a primary nurse. In the span of time that a baby is in the NICU, both mom and dad will get well acquainted with their primary nurse. But these nurses are not alone, there's a team of doctors and nurses working around the clock to make those babies healthy (and the parents comfortable). However, just because a nurse works in the NICU doesn't mean she's as soft and comforting as they may need. Thankfully, parents have the right to request a different nurse if they're not vibing with the one in charge of their baby. After all, who knows how long your baby will be in the NICU; it's important you're working with someone you like and can trust.
13 Your Doctor Isn't Just A Doctor
Something that's important for parents to understand is that their doctors aren't just doctors. They're neonatologists. Living and Loving says, "Neonatologists are doctors who specialize in the care of sick full-term and preterm infants." As a mother, it's comforting to know that they're not just working with any old doctor — they're working with specialists; people who know what they're doing. "Neonatologists work mainly in the special care nurseries or newborn intensive care units of hospitals," Healthy Children noted. "In some cases, after a newborn has been discharged from the unit, a neonatologist may provide short-term follow-up care on an outpatient basis. Your neonatologist will coordinate care with your baby’s pediatrician."
12 That Moment Your Baby Leaves The Incubator
A baby can't leave the NICU until a number of milestones have been met. Since premature babies are born before important organs have had a chance to fully grow, being placed in an incubator is a way for the baby to grow. As Verywell Family reminds us, "they will be placed in an apparatus known as an incubator which provides the newborn the environmental conditions needed to thrive while in the [NICU]." These incubators will give the baby the "perfect" temperature for them to thrive, along with functions that can help with "infection, allergens, or excessive noise or light levels that can cause harm."
11 Breastmilk May Actually Be Best For Preemies
While it's a mother's choice on how they feed their child (by breastmilk or by formula), most specialists explain a woman's breastmilk is best for their little one while they're growing and recovering. "The [lipids] in human milk helps to enhance the development of your baby’s brain and neurologic tissues," Living & Loving explains. And while a little one may not have the strength or function to nurse on their own, a mother can use a pump to get the milk out, place it in bottles, and go from there. As a mom who may feel hopeless in those situations, knowing that her milk can do wonders for her baby can make all the difference.
10 Look Out For Anemia
When a mom finds out she's giving birth prematurely, there are so many things going through her mind; there's not "one" condition she's afraid of. All she hopes for is a chance for her baby to grow up and live a "normal" life. As Living & Loving explains, there's one condition in particular that is quite well known in preemies: anemia. "This is when a baby doesn’t have enough healthy red cells to carry oxygen to the rest of the body." To help a small baby (and even an adult), iron is typically added to combat it. However, as a new mom with a preemie on their hands, they should know that anemia is quite common in these situations and treatable.
9 ... And Apnea
No preemie is alike. While some conditions are seen more often than not, every parent (and preemie) has different stories and outcomes. One condition that's quite common in most premature births, however, is apnoea. "Apnoea may occur when there is a brief cessation of breathing, and it is sometimes accompanied by a slowed-down heart rate (bradycardia)," Living & Loving explains. It's frightening to see your little one struggle to breathe on their own—especially as they sleep—but the older and stronger they get, the more likely they are to thrive.
8 You're Not Going To Know When You Can Take Your Little One Home
If there's one question that's uttered the most in the NICU, it's "When do you think we'll be able to go home?" And as Verywell Family explained, there's a variety of milestones babies need to pass before they can go home and live "normal" lives. It may be tiring and expensive to spend all those days and nights in the hospital, but it's for the general wellbeing of your baby.
Before a baby can get ready to head home, they must graduate from the incubator to an open crib. They then need to pass a hearing test — one that tests sound waves and the other that sensors a baby's nerves and how they're responding to the sound. A baby will also need to be placed in a car seat to make sure they fit correctly and are strong enough to be in that position.
Once all these milestones are met, a baby is closer and closer to going home.
7 Your Baby May Have Two Birthdays
One NICU mama told her story to Babble and how her daughter now has two birthdays. One is their actual day of birth and the other is their supposed due date. In this instance, this woman's daughter was born in June, with a due date of August 1. Everything her baby did was compared to her "adjusted age," meaning her due date. "We recently went for her four-month check-up and our doctor told us, with a smile, that she’s doing everything a 2-month-old should be doing. While hearing that our precious 4-month-old is functioning as a 2-month-old is a little unsettling, it’s something we are slowly coming around to," she told Babble.
6 Tripple Feeding
Remember how we said some doctors believe breastmilk is best for a premature baby? Well, if that's the route a mom is taking, something called "triple feeding" is what she needs to get used to. According to Babble, triple feeding is when a mom breastfeeds, bottle feeds, and uses a pump. That's one bust mama! A woman should triple feed in these trying times to make sure her supply stays up. However, as one mom explains, triple feeding is tiring. "Triple feeding is EXHAUSTING!" she says. "The first few days it would take so long that I would only have a half-hour before I’d have to start the process all over again. It took long because she’d fall asleep at [my chest], then bottle feeding was a struggle."
5 The Apgar Score
While most parents now know there are certain milestones baby needs to pass in order to leave NICU life and begin life at home, there's also something called the Apgar score that helps access babies. Tommy's says, "Once your baby is stabilized, the healthcare team will give them a thorough physical examination to confirm their gestational age and identify of any potential problems." The Apgar score is a ranking of zero to 10 and assesses the baby's wellbeing. The score checks on the baby's heart rate, breathing, reflex, skin color, and muscle tone. The top score a preemie baby can get is a 10 (and yes, getting a 10 is very hard to do).
4 There's A Car Seat Test
Similar to the Apgar test above, there's a car seat test premature babies need to pass before they leave the hospital's walls. But what is this test exactly? Babble describes it more in depth. "The car seat test is where the baby sits in it for 90 minutes, while hooked up to monitors. Their heart rate can’t drop below a certain point, and if it does, you have to wait another 24 hours and try again." Not all babies pass this seemingly easy test on the first try; they may have to try a few times before being given the go-ahead. But as most parents can attest, they'd rather try the car seat test time and time again until their beautiful baby is strong enough to pass on their own.
3 Bundle Up
Something that most new moms (and other hospital patients) forget is that hospitals are cold! With thin walls, curtains, sheets, it's any wonder how the hospital staff stays warm on their shift! While a mom in labor may be worrying too much about the actual delivery to even think about her body temperature, when a mom is waiting in the NICU for their baby, that's when she'll realize how frigid it can be. To prepare for the long days and nights, wear comfortable, cozy clothing. Bring a blanket if you feel inclined, and don't forget your pillow! While hospitals are stocked with goods like pillows and blankets, there's nothing quite as comforting like a pillow from home.
2 Delayed Cord Clamping
Most moms and dads dream about the moment they cut their babies umbilical cord. It's kind of a poetic moment that disconnects the baby from its mother. It's a welcoming from the womb to the world. When a child is born prematurely though, that cord-cutting may have to wait. Now, depending on where mom is having her baby, doctors may delay the cord cutting. As Tommy's notes, "If possible your unit will delay clamping the cord until it has stopped pulsating (delivering [plasma], oxygen, and nutrients) to the baby. This has been shown to benefit the baby in many ways." Once the cord has stopped pulsating, mom or dad can have the chance to cut the cord.
1 Make It Feel Like Home
Doctors, nurses, and specialists aren't sure when mom and baby(ies) are ready to go home. And since parents don't want to rush this kind of thing, it's best they soak in their new reality and make the best of it. The hospital and their unit's nurses are their new best friends. They're the familiar faces that will be giving the life-changing information. And since good news may come with a long waiting time, mom and dad should make themselves at home. Grab some books they were hoping to read at home, bring a few photos, fold up a few blankets... all these things can be comforting for both the parents and their little one.
Sources: Verywell Family, Living & Loving, Babble, Tommy's, Healthy Children.