In case you find yourself parenting a preemie through the NICU and beyond, learn what to expect from moms who have made it to the other side.
Some parents discover while pregnant that their baby will more than likely make an early appearance. Others face preterm birth spontaneously and with-out warning. In both cases, life instantly becomes chaotic and scary. Pleasant daydreams of what those first few days with baby will be like suddenly evaporate, and “typical” new-parent experiences are replaced with crisis management and medical jargon.
Kristin Moan of Nowthen, Minnesota, gave birth prematurely to identical twin girls who were both under 2 pounds. Her daughters spent more than 100 days in the NICU. “In my case I didn’t know what was normal and what was abnormal,” says Moan. “My maternity leave was filled with specialist appointments, weight checks and surgeries. When I returned to work, life consisted of driving back and forth from my job to the NICU. I didn’t know what it meant to breastfeed my children or have their newborn photos done. I have no maternity photos to look back on and no complaints about how big my feet were when I gave birth. But I have my girls—they just come with a few more doctors and nurses.”
Loss of control
If your babe-to-be arrives ahead of schedule, your initial reaction will likely be fear. Karna Minnett, a retired NICU nurse and nurse educator in Denver, says, “The parents are for the most part terrified. The wheels are always turning as they wonder, How can I make this outcome better?”
Even if this isn’t how it was supposed to be, dwelling on what’s outside of your control won’t help anyone. Instead, focus on what you can do—however small—to rein in your worries and help your little one. It could be a long journey to walking out those hospital doors with your babe in arms, so prepare for a marathon, not a sprint.
After the crisis has passed (and the subsequent adrenaline has crashed), a NICU stay is both tedious and exhausting, says Minnett. Once a preemie’s immediate health needs are stable, full discharge could still be weeks or even months away. For parents, this means many trips to the NICU to change diapers, feed or simply touch their newborns. This is on top of postpartum recovery, work and—in some cases—caring for older siblings. Sean S. Daneshmand, MD, OB/GYN, maternal-fetal medicine specialist in San Diego and founder of the nonprofit organization Miracle Babies, points to parents’ self-care as the No. 1 game-changer in NICU outcomes.
Some Risk Factors For Preterm Birth Include:
- Previous preterm birth
- Carrying multiples
- Conception via IVF
- A short interval (six months or less) between pregnancies
- Drug use
- Extremely stressful life evenings, such as the death of a loved one
- Multiple Miscarriages or abortions
- Physical injury
- Chronic health issues, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
Love. Rest. Love some more.
Allow the feelings to come – they are big feelings. Find the humor in their little wrinkled faces. Giggle when you get peed on. You are still a new parent going through new-parent events-just in a different setting than at home. – Carol Kalvig, mother of premature fraternal twin boys in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
“I always tell my patients that there are certain things that are in one’s control and others that are not,” says Daneshamnd. “That is one of those times where you, as a parent need to pay attention to your own health by eating well, exercising, resting, meditating and practicing yoga. By keeping yourself healthy both mentally and physically, you will be able to address setbacks more calmly, ask better questions and make wiser decisions.”
Despite the anxiety that comes with having a preemie, one thing that many NICU moms and dads seem to have in common in gratitude. The parenting experience is stripped down, in a sense, to life’s most basic needs-the ability to breathe independently, to eat, to gain weight-and parents are thankful for every single milestone. Every step forward is one step closer to health and eventual discharge, and nothing is taken for granted.
Not all preemies face the same challenges. Complications are greatly reduced with each day of gestation and also with size. In short, the earlier the delivery and the lower the birth weight, the greater risk faced by the child.
What exactly defines preterm? Let’s break it down…
- A preterm or premature infant is any baby born before 37 weeks.
- Late preterm indicates birth between 34 and 36 weeks.
- Mircopreemie or super preemie refers to a child born at fewer then 26 weeks.
Any preemie can face a myriad of health issues following birth, but micropreemies tend to encounter more problems, which lead to longer NICU stays. In addition to being prone to illness and infection, premature infants commonly face the following short-term and long-term complications:
- Cerebral palsy
- Respiratory distress and disease
- Heart issues
- Cognitive impairment
- Hearing problems
- Inconsistent temperature regulation
- Vision difficulties
Live in the moment
Neonatal nurse practitioner Jodi Haniwalt Kreiser of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota suggests parents of preemies “focus on the even the smallest steps toward going home, not the large hurdles keeping them in the hospital.”
Take heart, even in light of possible health complications, care of preemies is the best it has ever been. “These babies are resilient and tenacious,” says Minnett, who has worked in a NICU for 37 years. “They will fight for what they need.”
This can be a day-by-day, minute-by-minute, feeding-to-feeding journey-sometimes teetering on the verge of catastrophe and sometimes extremely repetitive and mundane. Those in the know advise practicing patience and gentleness.
By: Jen Wittes
Source: Pregnancy & Newborn
Miracle Babies: Guide and Journey Through the NICU
If you unexpectedly find yourself navigating the NICU, Miracle Babies: Guide and Journey Through the NICU is a resource worth adding to your reading list. The booklet relies on the voices of experts and fellow preemie mamas and papas to support you through your child’s NICU stay and beyond. $16, amazon.com