The first thing I used to think of when I heard preemie was cute and small or delicate. It took me some time to realize that reality is not as sugar-coated as my imagination was.
Premature birth (or preterm birth) is defined as a birth that happens before 37 weeks of gestation and, as a result, premature babies can have health problems at birth and later in life. They’re also more likely to spend time in the hospital after birth than babies born on time. However, guilt has no place in births not-to-term, even if you do everything right, you can still have a premature birth.
One of the key messages of this article is realizing it is important to be realistic in regards to your new baby and your new way of life. Life with your premature baby will be different than life with delivered-to-term newborns. Many women describe their early days with a new baby as having a dream-like quality. You are recovering from the birth, coping with a great deal of change – not to mention raging hormones – and may feel extremely tired. If your baby is born prematurely, you have to cope with all of this without having had a chance to prepare yourself – either emotionally or practically. The birth may have come as a big shock, and you may also be coping with the realities of health problems for you or your baby.
Whatever you are feeling, it is okay and it is valid
It may be difficult to admit but it is very normal if you are having a hard time bonding with your preemie. Right after birth, babies delivered to term are placed on mothers’ chests for skin on skin contact. If your baby is premature that chance to bond immediately after birth is taken from you as your birthing team rush to save your baby’s life. When your baby is intubated it may be harder than usual to bond. If you are expecting to fall in love with them at first sight, you may feel very worried or guilty if you feel somewhat detached from the small creature lying in the incubator. Try not to worry if you don’t bond immediately. It takes many mothers some time to get to know and love their new baby, especially after a difficult birth. If your baby is in an incubator, then it may take you a little longer to connect with them, as so many other people need to be involved in their care.
Having a premature baby is a traumatic experience
Many parents experience feelings of intense anxiety and stress along with lingering feelings of grief when their baby is born prematurely. Loss of privacy and a sense of control along with the inability to share a ‘regular’ birth experience with other moms or friends is isolating and frightening.
It is imperative that as a new mom you take some time for yourself and you do not sleep in the hospital NICU every night. Make sure to spend one-to-one time with your partner, as much as you are frightened, they are just as scared and lonely, make an effort to find comfort within one another. Keep in regular contact with close friends or family – whether by phone, by email or meeting up. Friends and family will be anxious on your behalf as well and will want to do anything in their power to help. Accepting a homecooked lunch or company in the hospital will do wonders for you and will ensure you do not alienate yourself from those who care for you. Light exercise such as walking, swimming or doing yoga within limits can help postpartum anxiety. Make sure not to overdo it but endorphins always help the bleakest days look a little better.
Although this time in your life may seem endless, it is not. You will get through this hurdle as a strong mother. While you may be supermom and able to juggle everything at once, please keep an eye on when things start to get unmanageable. Reaching out to your network and community, even if it is just a nurse at the hospital can make all the difference. You are not alone!