Following the birth of our son at just 32 weeks gestation we were so lucky to have amazing support from friends and family. I honestly don’t know how we could have got through the first 6 weeks without them. With one baby in hospital and a toddler at home, it was a seriously tough time. We really had to lean on those around us to simply get through.
I have been asked a couple of times now what I thought were the most useful things in those first few weeks. Here are my suggestions on how you can support a friend or family member who has a preterm baby.
Ideas for Supporting Parents of a Preterm Baby
- Meals. We were inundated with meals and it was amazing. To know that my boys at home had plenty of real food really eased my mind. Once I was discharged, after spending a long day in hospital, the last thing I wanted to do when I came home was cook. Those precious hours were reserved for spending time with my toddler and my hubby. I would suggest some “single serve” meals – something that could be takne in to the hospital. Buying your meals every day adds up – and that’s on top of the parking you have to pay for! If you’re not much of a cook, there are loads of delivery services available. We were gifted a few meals from Angel Delivery here in NZ, from lovely friends who lived far away. Amazing food, so well packaged and presented. Long expiry dates if you don’t get to eat them straight away – plus they were mostly freezer friendly too.
- Lactation Support. Depending on how early the baby arrived, how they arrived and how many complications they have – the journey to breastfeeding can be long, exhausting and stressful. Anything that supports milk flow is a great gift – lactation cookies (homemade or bought), lactation teas, supplements – there are so many options. I would recommend approaching this area carefully though. The last thing an emotionally stressed Mum was to feel is added pressure if she’s chosen to formula feed.
- Care Packages. I was given so many thoughtful care packages including the above from my lovely sister-in-law. The things that I found really helpful were:
- Snacks – anything I could throw in my handbag for when I got peckish in hospital.
- Hand cream / moisturiser – you would not believe how often you have to wash your hands in hospital. And if you are expressing, you seem to always have your hands in soapy water,cleaning the bits for the breast pump.
- A little notebook – this was awesome for recording weights, dates, all the little things you don’t want to forget.
- Baby wash – you want that first baby bath to be special.
- Premature Sized Baby Clothes. I don’t know anyone who has planned for a preterm baby. Chances are, Mum and Dad won’t have been picking out cute premature size clothes on their pre-baby shopping trips. Some premature clothes can be super helpful but check in before going crazy as some preterm babies can still be a good size. Plus, if they are in an incubator for a long time, they may not be wearing any clothes. If you do decide to buy some teeny tiny baby clothes, stick to natural fibres – wool and cotton only. The Small Babies online store is a great place to start. Tiny babies struggle to regulate their body temperatures so synthetic fabrics are not a good idea.
- Taxi Service. If the baby was delivered by caesarean section, chances are Mum won’t be able to drive for a while. Even if she feels as fit as a fiddle, there can be insurance implications. If you have the time, offer to taxi her to the hospital and back. Or to the grocery store. Or anywhere she may want to go.
- Early Buds Prem Pack. These are the most amazing little packs of essentials for preemie babies born in New Zealand – totally free and assembled with love. You can order one on behalf of the parents from the Early Buds website. The packs even come with these awesome Preemie Baby Milestone Cards.
- Grocery Deliveries. Countdown grocery deliveries changed my life. When my first was born, I don’t think I set foot in a supermarket for the first two months! And Countdown allow you to pre-purchase 3 or 6 months worth of deliveries. This would be an awesome gift for any new parents, let alone those of a premature baby.
- NICU Octopus. Crocheted octopus toys make the perfect snuggle buddies for premature babes, with tentacles that mimic the feel of the umbilical cord and prevent tiny fingers from pulling at lines. There are loads of clever crafty people who make them here in New Zealand. It is important that they are made with crocheted eyes, not eyes that are sewn on. I believe there are also restrictions on what materials they can be made from. Not all hospitals will allow these in the incubators or cots but even if not allowed, they are still a lovely little keepsake.
- Messages of Support. If you struggle with what to say and what not to say, check out the great guide on the Early Buds website.
- Online Support. If you are in New Zealand, mention that there is a Facebook group for supporting parents of preterm or unwell newborns. Search for the NZ NICU, SCBU, NNU parents support group. There are bound to be similar groups all around the world.
Everyones situation is different so if you are unsure on what might be helpful, just ask. If they have other children, maybe taking them out for an hour or two would be helpful. Maybe feeding their animals while they are spending hours on end in the hospital would be a big help. Or maybe the car warrant has expired and you could drop it at the garage for them. When you have a baby in hospital everything else will take a back seat but life doesn’t stop. Being there as a support, whatever that looks like, is the best thing you can do to help the parents through this difficult time.
Is there anything I have forgotten? Did you have a preterm baby? What was the biggest help to you? I would love to hear from you.