Do you know someone who has given birth to a premature baby? It’s more common than you think. According to the March of Dimes, a baby is considered premature if they are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy; across the U.S., this averages out to about 1 in 10 babies born prematurely each year. When you’re a parent of a premature baby, you are faced with many unknowns. You may not know where to turn when looking for advice for parents of preemies.
November is Prematurity Awareness Month. It’s a special month to bring awareness of prematurity to those who may not be familiar with it. As the parent of a 34-weeker, I get it. When you’re the parent of a preemie, you live prematurity every single day.
If you’re the new parent of a preemie, you may be feeling a little lost. Feel lost no more–I’m here for you, along with local parents in our Detroit Mom community. Together, we would like to bring you five pieces of advice for parents of preemies, from parents of preemies. You are not alone!
Take it One Day at a Time
Your first thought may be of how early your little one is. The difficulty lies in seeing the bigger picture; you immediately think of their future, of obstacles, of troubles they may face. But the bigger picture is right in front of you, in that tiny but mighty newborn.
A helpful piece of advice for parents of preemies is to just take things one day at a time. Your prematurity may be coupled with a NICU stay–take it slow. It can be overwhelming thinking of how much your premature baby will need to do to “catch up” to their peers. The important thing is to be here, now, in this moment.
“Take it day by day. Every little small thing is HUGE. It never gets easier, you get STRONGER.” —Stephanie Wilamowski
Take Care of Yourself
Parents of preemies focus all of their time and energy on their strong little fighter. It’s so easy to forget to take care of yourself. Your mind constantly races with thoughts about the future. It’s tiring.
Another helpful piece of advice for parents of preemies is really, to take care of yourself. It was the NICU staff who talked the most sense into my husband and I during our prematurity journey. They continually reminded us that it was okay to step away and grab lunch. They’d let us know if anything happened while we were gone.
“It can be very rough on you. Emotionally, physically, socially, mentally. You need to take care of yourself!… Go for an hour to the cafeteria or your car and eat. Our hospital had a walking path outside also, I was able to get some sunlight between care times and pumping. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your baby.” —Amanda Rose
Speak Up for Yourself
When you are the parent of a preemie, you are your child’s advocate. You keep lists of questions for medical staff and make sure you don’t miss rounds. Everything needs an explanation, and you make sure to ask when you are unsure of something. But what about when it comes to yourself?
The next piece of advice for parents of preemies is to remember to speak up for yourself. When family and friends ask how they can help, be direct. Tell them exactly what you need–even if exactly what you need is time to yourself. Your loved ones want to help you, but you might need to tell them where to start.
“Don’t be afraid to tell your support system exactly what you need/need help with! We lived 2000 miles from family. Our friends & their parents helped until our parents could get to us. I’m forever grateful for being honest with them!” —Kara Wood Leese
Anticipate Both Highs and Lows
This solid piece of advice for parents of preemies is one that you won’t quite understand until you’re in the thick of it. Just when you think your preemie is making progress, a minor setback will lead to a lot of frustration. It can be especially difficult when you are tired, overwhelmed, and just want your little fighter to be strong enough for discharge day.
It helps to go into your prematurity experience with the understanding that you will have good days and bad days. Sometimes a single day will be both good and bad. Other times, multiple good days will be followed by a bad day . . . and then a good day. Progress is progress, no matter how small. Those tough little fighters get stronger in their own unique ways.
“Preemie mom to a 26 weeker. My best advice to new preemie parents is go in expecting that your NICU journey will be a rollercoaster. There will be good and bad days. Preemies are incredibly strong but sometimes they need breaks too. I spent so much time worrying on the bad days that sometimes I didn’t allow myself to truly celebrate the good days and all my son had already accomplished.” —Brittany Hough
Remember that Progress is Personal
I learned through our prematurity journey that preemie life is all about patience. Milestones will happen when your baby is ready, and not a minute sooner. So don’t compare your baby to anyone else’s.
Each child grows and develops on their own time, and a lot of preemie parents have adjusted age stuck in the back of their mind. Here’s the thing, though–you don’t need to explain your preemie to anybody. At all. If you want to, to raise awareness, please do! But don’t ever feel that you have to explain why your premature baby isn’t yet rolling over, crawling, or walking. It will happen. But you have to give it time.
“Never defend your child’s growth! You don’t owe the world an explanation on adjusted age milestones. I felt like I was always in defense mode. Like oh he’s a preemie…” —Kelley Chinavare-Yell
“I used to get so tired of hearing how someone else’s 4 [pound baby] was able to come home, why couldn’t ours. Main piece of advice… go with the flow & love on that little baby while ignoring the stress others can put on [you] & the situation.” —Emily Martin
The world of prematurity is full of a lot of unknowns, but know you are not alone. Remember to take things slowly and speak up for yourself. Know you will encounter lows with the highs, and that your baby’s progress is personal. In a world where we are so quick to get to the next step, use this time with your premature baby to soak in the newborn goodness and remember they’ll get where they need to be, when they’re ready to get there. This Prematurity Awareness Month, celebrate your little one. They are stronger than you think.