In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.
In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes, How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.
Seeing our newborn babies in the NICU was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured. I had spent months planning this perfect delivery; envisioned taking my two darlings home; and, continuing on our happy little way.
So, when I delivered my twins at 33 weeks, my dream of “how-it-was-going-to-be” turned into a confusing, and with the magnesium drip I was on, almost surreal experience. Looking back now, I wish I had had someone to guide me through my first foray into parenting: being a new mom of NICU preemies.
I asked moms in the San Antonio Mothers of Multiples group to come up with a list of things that they would tell a new mom who has babies in the NICU.
- Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Why? What is happening? Why this treatment? What are the alternatives? Be sincere rather than confrontational. But, don’t be put off by anything you don’t understand. Ask for an explanation that makes sense to you. If you are having a hard time understanding what the doctors are saying, there usually is a patient advocate or social worker to help you out. Find that person.
- Get yourself healthy and rested. If you had a C-section, you had a major surgery. Make sure you are getting the rest you need to recover. Even if you didn’t have a C-section, you still need to recuperate. Your babies won’t know that you didn’t visit until five in the evening or that you took a day off. When they come home you and your partner will be the primary caretakers—and your shift won’t end so that you can go home and have some down time away from babies. Get healthy so that when that time comes, you aren’t trying to recover AND care for fragile preemies.
- Do as much as the NICU will allow you to do. Can you change their diapers? Can you feed them? Can you sponge bathe them? Make sure your husband is doing this too! The babies seem so fragile, but the more you are used to caring for them, the easier it will be when they are home with both of you.
- Make nice with the nurses. Their number one priority is your babies. And, at times it might feel that you are second fiddle. Talk to them about the babies but also ask how they are doing. Make conversation. The nurses will be your best advocates with the doctors.
- Breastfeed as soon as you are able. This will help you by keeping up your supply and bonding with your babies and it helps your babies because breast milk is easier to digest than formula and it is packed with everything your babies need, especially important antibodies.
- Pump. Pump. Pump. Even if you decide you aren’t going to breastfeed or if the babies are too young to suck, your breast milk is the easiest for them to digest and the antibodies that are in your milk are the best things for them! You are actually able to provide them something that no medicine can duplicate!
- Kangaroo care. This is where you hold your naked (or almost naked baby) against your bare skin. Studies have shown that it calms babies and stabilizes their heart rate and breathing. We’ll be posting more on Kangaroo Care soon.
- Don’t feel guilty that your babies are in the NICU because of something you did or didn’t do. It wasn’t that sip of wine that you snuck at your anniversary dinner or the fact that you continued working until you went into labor. Pregnancy is complicated and doctors don’t necessarily know why in many cases babies are born too early. Don’t beat yourself up trying to think how you could have done things differently.
- Use your support system and let people help out. Cutting the lawn, bringing over a meal or six, helping with the housework, driving you to the NICU, all of these allow you to conserve energy and attention for your babies.
- Personalize your space in the NICU. Bring pictures, blankets, clothes for the babies, anything that will make you feel more comfortable when you visit.
What advice would you share with moms who are facing time in the NICU?
Michelle is the mom of five sweet kiddos — two sets of twins, born at 33 weeks and 36 weeks, and a singleton, also born at 36 weeks — all proud NICU graduates. She blogs about her family’s adventures and her journey through motherhood at Twins Times Two.