The time has come. You finally got the all-clear to take your bundle of joy home with you...your miraculous preemie baby. No more trips back and forth to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to visit your baby. No more tugging at the heartstrings when it’s time to leave for the night. No more grab and go meals. No more feeling like you have to juggle your life at home and work with NICU life.
This is it! This time, your sweet baby will be riding home with you in their car seat in their adorable“ coming home” outfit. The most precious cargo you will ever transport. Driving a newborn home is scary enough, no less driving your preemie that spent time in the hospital getting strong enough to leave.
While you’re experiencing the emotional high of bringing your preemie home, you can’t help but to feel panic-ridden as well. The laundry list of “what ifs” run through your mind, self-doubt arises, fear takes over and you’re feeling squashed by overwhelming feelings of anxiety. You want to be over-the-moon happy, but it’s just not possible. Your baby, your preemie baby that made their grand entrance into the world before their due date, rocked your world. Life as you know it with your preemie has been in the hands of the NICU doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. They’ve been caring for your preemie around the clock and although it’s been difficult, most likely the most challenging time in your life, you’ve found comfort in knowing your baby is under the watchful eyes and care of their medical team. Yes, you’ve been there throughout the journey, too and haven’t skipped a beat! You’ve done kangaroo care, held your baby, fed your baby, learned about all the wires, tubes, and machines, listened to every beep and sound, cried, laughed, created and nurtured relationships with the NICU staff, journaled and more. But now, you’re leaving your safety net and it’s nerve-wracking.
You are SO not alone. Your feelings and fears are common. It is important that you face those fears with the utmost of confidence, positivity, and strength. You are and will continue to be the rock for your baby. They need you during this bumpy road, so hold on tight and never let go. A new chapter is about to begin!
Babies do not come with a manual, even though there are times we wish they did. Each baby is unique and requires their own special care, especially those premature babies that require medical care. Preemie babies spend time in the NICU and experience frequent ups and downs during their stay...a rollercoaster ride of emotions if you will. As parents, you witness the good and not so good in the NICU. For every step forward, there may be two steps back. Little victories are celebrated in a big way. The biggest of all is when your preemie receives their “diploma” as the newest NICU graduate in town.
When you are given the green light to “go home”, no wonder you become fearful. You’ve been through a tremendous amount of conundrum. Here is a list of some common fears parents have when taking a preemie home:
● Do I have everything I need for baby?
● Will they be able to feed well enough whether it be breastfeeding, bottle feeding, feeding tube? Will they experience appropriate weight gain?
● Will they be able to breathe ok on their own? During wakeful periods, while sleeping, during feeds?
● Will I be able to keep them warm enough to help regulate their temperature?
● Will they get sick? If they do, what will happen?
● Will I be able to manage the equipment they need, etc? What if I do something wrong?
What if the machine isn’t working properly?
● How do I handle visitors?
● How do I stick to a schedule that works for my preemie?
● How do I handle unsolicited advice and opinions from others?
● How do I juggle my preemie with my other children?
These are just a handful of common fears parents experience. As you can imagine, there are many more. A parent never stops worrying, especially a preemie parent that has experienced escalated worries from the very beginning.
It is crucial to understand that you are not alone. Your feelings are justified and you must acknowledge them. Make a plan to tackle your fears head-on so that you can be the best possible parent for your preemie. Doing so will help you find your new normal and welcome each new day with a positive outlook and a healthy mind. Set yourself and your preemie up for success and the rest of the pieces will hopefully fall into place gracefully.
OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS
● When in doubt, pick up and call your baby’s provider. You had a team that supported you and your baby during your NICU stay and you will have health professionals to support you on the other end of your preemie’s journey. There is never a silly question when it comes to your baby’s well-being...so ask away! And take note...this is not a sign of weakness, rather strength. You are 100% invested in your preemie’s life and will do anything to make sure they are well cared for.
● Do your best to prepare ahead of time for your preemie’s homecoming. Make sure they have a safe place to sleep, their car seat is installed and ready to go, clothing, swaddles, diapers, wipes, bathing essentials, nails clippers, thermometer, creams bottles, and any medical supplies or equipment that is prescribed by the medical team. Most of these essential items you can find at Target or Amazon. For good quality (and cute) swaddles, Audrey & Bear's swaddles are made for these delicate little babies and every swaddle purchased at Audrey & Bear, they donate one to a NICU hospital.
● Stick to the feeding schedule your preemie followed in the NICU. If a plan is laid out for them once you head home, adhere to the new routine. Whether you are feeding by breast, bottle, tube...make sure you feel confident upon your departure from the NICU. Ask any and all questions as they come to you. Know that fed is best, no matter how baby is being fed. If problems or questions once you are home, make a phone call to discuss or schedule an appointment if necessary.
● Study and get to know your baby while in the NICU. With concerns surrounding breathing, trust that you know their cues and what to look for (you will learn about this and ask questions in the NICU), set up a safe sleep space and educate yourself on how to use a baby monitor and any equipment they need. Make sure that you get infant and child CPR certified.
● Make sure to follow safe sleep guidelines in order to prevent your baby from dangers like choking and suffocation and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Place baby flat on their backs on a firm, flat surface such as a bassinet or crib. Baby should be placed in their own crib or bassinet...share a room, not a bed. Do not put anything else in the crib or bassinet with baby such as blankets, toys, pillows, bumpers, etc.
● Keep your baby healthy at home to the best of your ability. While your preemie is strengthening and building their immune system you can take extra precautions to ensure a healthy household, especially during cold and flu season. Limit the number of visitors you welcome into your home. Make sure no one is around the baby that is sick, had a fever, or was exposed to a recent illness. Handwashing is a must for all and no kissing baby. Do your best to stay away from crowded areas and places you know are guaranteed to be filled with germs and bacteria.
● Welcome any and all help offered. People offer because they want to. They want to do what they can because they know there’s a lot they can’t necessarily do when it comes to your baby. Ask for help when needed. This is a major life event and you can’t do it all alone. If it means someone can fold laundry, run to the grocery store, spend time with your other child...let them in. If it gives you one less thing to worry about, say yes! You will be happy you did!
● Engaging in skin-to-skin with your preemie will not only help keep your baby warm and regulate their temperature, it’s the ideal way to bond with your baby. Take time to do this, not only for your baby but for you. It’s a beautiful act of love and comfort that increases oxytocin levels.
● Take advantage of participating in your preemie’s daily routine in the NICU before leaving the hospital. The experts are there for you to shadow and it gives you the opportunity to ask endless questions. Take over tasks that you are comfortable doing and ask for help when you are in doubt or nervous. Understanding your preemie’s life in the NICU will make the care for your baby and transition with the baby at home that much easier. You will have acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to care for your preemie in the comfort of your own home.
● Do your best to tune out the comments and opinions of others that stir up anxiety and bring negativity to the table. You know your baby best. You don’t need to hear the comparisons, the “you should do this and that”...YOU are the parent. If you seek out advice or opinions, that’s fine. When it’s unsolicited and makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak your truth. You have enough on your plate. Your job is to focus on your preemie and act in their best interest, as well as your own.
● Juggling multiple children is always a challenge. Make sure you carve out time for each child so that you can give them individualized attention. Try to maintain normalcy by playing with and talking to them like you always did. On the other hand, introduce them to the new baby in their lives. Make them aware that they serve an important role in the baby’s life and that you want their help and assistance (obviously tasks are dependent upon their age).
Enjoy that magnificent moment when you leave the NICU with your bundle of joy and walk through your front door. It’s the moment you’ve been dreaming about and now it’s a reality! You and you baby have come a long way since they’ve been earthside. Take all the pictures, feel all the feels and know that deep down, you are far more prepared for this than you give yourself credit for.
Believe in yourself. Believe in your strong baby. Believe in the medical staff. Believe in your support system. Believe in the power of love. Together, you will all do great things and overcome your fears. Step by step, day by day, week by week.
Taking your preemie home...you’ve got this!