By Jen Hamilton, Parenting expert and founder of WOTBaby.
No new mother 'chooses' to have a baby prematurely and almost all mums who have had this experience have little to no control over what happens, feeling a huge amount of guilt.
It's easy to feel as though you've done something to trigger early labour, even though in almost 50% of cases doctors are unable to pinpoint a cause.
For over 30 years I've educated and supported new parents in routine, sleep and caring for their baby - including parents of premmie babies.
Most of these families have spent time in either special care or the NICU before being able to bring their baby home, which is extremely challenging for new parents. © Supplied
Jen Hamilton welcomed her third baby at 36 weeks.
They've already had a traumatic birth experience and as a result feel shocked, confused and guilty.
Being separated from their new baby and not knowing how long for is one of the hardest challenges families of premmie babies' face. Then there is the fear and feelings of helplessness watching their little one fight to survive, connected to wires and feeding tubes.
Parents of premmie babies have said to me that whilst their baby was in the NICU things didn't seem 'real'. Even though they were running back and forth from the hospital, expressing milk and caring for bub, they felt as if they didn't really 'own' their baby.
While the challenges aren't over once they get home, at least they feel a little more in control and things become 'more' real.
One positive about spending time in special care or the NICU is that feeding is usually very well established, and many premmie babies I've worked with are in predictable feeding patterns and routines by the time they come home. But this time can still evoke a rollercoaster of emotion. It's exciting, but also anxiety inducing - you will discover many more practical and emotional challenges along the journey of motherhood. © Supplied
After welcoming her son prematurely, Jen describes the feelings of guilt as unwavering.
Having a premmie baby and the physical, practical and emotional challenges families go through in the weeks after birth can be really tough. I had my third baby at 36 weeks and the thing I found so prevalent, was the mixed feelings I had. One minute I was feeling so excited and happy and the next all I felt were guilt, anger, helplessness and fear. © Supplied
"My son was not as premmie as many other babies."
The feelings of guilt were unwavering. I was 42yrs old which in itself was scary. I felt anger that this was happening to us and found myself asking why my little boy had to go through all of this. I felt overwhelmed having to somehow care for my older two children with next to no family support. I felt overwhelming fear because our boy was also born with a genetic condition and doctors could not tell us what that meant for our family's future.
There weren't many resources or support groups I could find at the time, and in a last minute dash to the shops for clothing, it was near impossible to find mainstream retailers catering to premmie babies at an affordable price. It would be some time before I could get back to work so the last thing I needed was the additional finanical stress of paying more than double the price for premature sizes.
We were very fortunate to be in a public hospital and I was able to stay there with my baby in hospital until he was strong enough to come home. A small piece of me was thankful to avoid a cloud of bills upon going home.
My son was not as premmie as many other babies but he was slow to feed, very much on the small side and had several other challenges so he needed to spend some time in special care.
Everyone deserves to enjoy their early parenting journey and working with many parents of premmie babies as well as experiencing it first-hand, I know that even though it's a time of negative emotion, stress and uncertainty.it's also a time full of wonder, miracles and excitement.
Here are some tips I've learned over the years that I hope will help new parents of a premmie baby:
- Being close to your baby will help boost your own wellbeing - it helps you to release those 'love' hormones.
- Practice skin to skin contact with your baby as soon as it's possible. It strengthens the bonding process and makes your little one feel secure.
- Get involved as soon as possible - be willing to accept the support and education you'll receive from NICU staff and let them show you how to get involved.
- Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Anyone who will listen, just keep talking.
- Acknowledge your feelings - they are justified no matter the spectrum, you've likely never done this before.
- Communicate with your partner - think about how they are feeling. Remember we all cope in different ways and it's important to acknowledge they may be struggling too.
- Take care of yourself. If YOU are not strong and healthy you can't be there for your little fighter, so eat healthy and try to get some light exercise. Exercise helps with those 'feel good' hormones as well.
- Celebrate the wins, no matter how big or small. Premmie babies can often have development or other health issues and they will reach their goals and milestones in their own time. Their journey may be just a little different to other babies.
- Don't compare! The birth of a premmie is unlike any other pregnancy or birth.
- Find your village and ONLY positive people.
- Avoid unnecessary stress. You have enough to deal with.
- Ask for help often. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Be organised - try to have your nursery and things for the baby ready to go when you get home. Ask family or friends to help with anything unexpected so you can just focus on the baby when you bring them home. I recommend my clients head to Best&Less as they now have a range of premmie clothing for such affordable prices.
There's no doubt about it - having a premmie baby will change you forever but it's not all negative. They are tiny but they are strong. You will feel fragile but you are strong. Together you will continue to learn and make an amazing team.