There will be so many things you will learn, discover and experience with having a new preemie baby! Here are just FIVE of the things we felt might be helpful to a new preemie parent:
1. Kangaroo Care doesn't refer to the animals you find in Australia! Kangaroo Care, also called Skin-to-skin care, is very beneficial for your baby. One of the main reasons is the bare skin contact and close proximity promotes bonding between the preemie and parent. It can help make up for some of the bonding time lost in the womb. Kangaroo care is often described as, laying your baby on your bare chest (if you’re the father) or between your bare breasts (if you’re the mother). The key is your baby’s bare skin is touching your bare skin. It is then common for the nursing staff to cover you both with a warm snuggly blanket for a great little cuddle time.
2. Your baby may not be ready to breastfeed or take a bottle right away. The most natural thing newborn babies usually do will also be delayed with a preemie. The sucking reflex starts around 32 weeks of pregnancy and does not finish developing until 36 weeks. When a baby is born early they may lack the reflex to suck easily. The medical staff will usually use a feeding tube to provide the nourishment your baby needs. The staff will also work on oral stimulation by encouraging the use of a pacifier or a finger if it is preferred.
3. Bonding may take extra time. This is due to the fact you suddenly have a teeny baby in the care of medical staff in a hospital, instead of at home with you in the nursery you have worked so hard to make just right. If it is at all possible, try to decorate your baby's space. Though the hospital isn't very private or cozy, work with the staff to try to make it a little bit more like home. Ask the medical team if you can place family photos or a blanket to cover the NICU bed. Finding cute preemie clothes that work well in the NICU can make it easier for you to thoroughly enjoy your little miracle. You also may be able to put a cloth or small blanket with your scent close to your preemie to remind baby of you when you're away.
4. You may need some therapy after your NICU journey is over. It can be very similar to the post-traumatic stress that veterans experience when you are in the NICU for months, watching your baby go through the many medical procedures. The sounds of the beepers and alarms going off, along with potential fear and so many uncertainties can take a toll on your emotions. Many hospitals offer social services and supportive care; please talk to someone and get some help. The most important person for you to take care of is yourself. It wouldn't be desirable for Mom to not be doing well when baby can finally come home. Self-care is extremely important.
5. You are on a roller coaster ride, and it's not at Disneyland! One minute you may be happy and then the next you might feel sad or anxious. For many parents, the NICU is an emotional roller coaster from day to day. Sometimes you may feel like you are going crazy, but having HOPE & FAITH is a great gift you can give yourself.