Why early bonds are vital for premature babies and their parents

IMG_7922It’s the moment every mother imagines during pregnancy – having her newborn baby placed on her chest after delivery. But sadly, many women do not get to experience this if their baby is born premature.

Each year Worldwide, 15 million babies are born too soon. My latest article on Essential Baby explores why early bonds are vital for premature babies and their parents. There are many things that family and friends can do to help parents who have given birth to a premature baby. Given the large number of babies being born too early there’s a strong chance that you know someone going through this experience. Please share this article and read below for some tips on how you can best support the parents of a premmie.

Support is crucial

Family and friends can struggle to support the parents of a premature baby, but it is vital not to abandon them, says Director of Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, Parool Shah.

Some things that can help are:

  • Congratulate the parents on the birth of their baby. Offer to post birth announcement.
  • Acknowledge the stress and toll Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) / Special Care Nursery (SCN) life can take.
  • Offer positive comments.
  • Offer to babysit siblings / Offer to pass on information to other family members.
  • Cook meals for the family & help out with housework.
  • Drive parents to the hospital. Parking can often be hard to find and / or expensive.
  • Offer to keep parents company while they visit baby, or meet them for a meal.

Some things to avoid:

  • Avoid comparing. This may only serve to maximise a parent’s grief.
  • Do not intrude / pry and avoid giving parenting advice.
  • Avoid abandoning parents. Stay in touch, knowing you are thinking of them helps.
  • Avoid talking about setbacks that may happen or challenges that baby may face.
  • Do not expect the parents to attend family gatherings.
  • Do not visit when sick.

The birth of a premature baby can create a very complex and conflicting emotional mix of happiness-grief,” says Shah.  “They have such a long road ahead of them.  Be there when needed, and listen to them regarding the support or space required.”

Have you experienced a premature birth or do you know someone who has? What was the experience like for you? Did anything help minimise your distress?

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11 thoughts on “Why early bonds are vital for premature babies and their parents

  1. My son was born 10 weeks early and I can’t tell you how many people just didn’t know what to do. I think they were nervous about congratulating me on his birth because he was so sick. I understand that now but then I just wanted it acknowledged that I had a baby.

    Too many people (who weren’t doctors) told me about his prognosis. That wasn’t good because they had no idea. Too many people told me that he was SOOOO small – I knew that and it would have been fine if there wasn’t the implication that I wasn’t feeding him enough.

    But some people were amazing – they brought meals to my house and they were there every minute if I needed them. I spent two months sitting next to his hospital crib and I could feel my friends sitting there with me – even though they weren’t allowed in. Because that’s the thing – visitors are not made welcome in the NICU so your friends have to be really patient with you, they never saw much of me for that first 2 months.

    Gosh – I can feel a post coming on here :-) xxxx

    • Lana, I can’t begin to imagine the roller coaster of emotions you experienced having a baby 10 weeks early. It must have been so traumatic for you and your husband. It’s interesting that you say many people didn’t know how to congratulate you. My case study made the same remark and she also felt that once people knew he was “OK” they considered everything to be OK but there were still many struggles they had to face. NICU must be a very strange place and not one for celebrations but I suppose you need to celebrate the small steps don’t you – and I am very happy to hear you felt you had your friends by your side at the hospital. Yes, write that post! xx

  2. I once worked with a lovely mum whose twin boys were born just before 30 weeks. They had such a traumatic start to life and that stayed with the mum for a long time. So much so, that four years later when I started working with her as a way of getting to know her I brought about 40 black and white photographs of all kinds of things with me, and asked her to pick a photo which represented where she felt her boys were at. She picked a photo with a skinny premature baby, tubes everywhere. It really struck me that our children’s beginnings play such an important role in how we think of them, and that the right kind of support in those early, tender weeks is so important.
    Thanks for sharing your article x

  3. What an amazing story Lindy. And what a great way to get her to identify her feelings. Yes, I agree with you that our children’s beginnings play a big role in how we think of them, and also how we think of ourselves as parents. I think this is also true of the birthing experience – and why many women report feeling depressed or suffer a type of post traumatic stress. The early moments/days and weeks do have a profound influence on us. In premature birth women often feel that they are somehow to blame. It’s so important that they have the right support from the get go. Thanks for sharing your story x

  4. My twins were born at 31 weeks and I am still recovering 10 years on. The bonds were tentative to say the least as I struggled with PND and PTSS when we finally came home after 10 weeks. My daughter came very close to dying a dew times and although we are one of the lucky ones,we never got that time back to form as closer bond as we needed and this is the double edged sword I carry: so very glad she is alive but so sad that even now, I search to make those bonds as strong as they should be when she was first born. Nothing can prepare us for having your child taken away so quickly to be cared for by complete strangers: a huge leap of faith. Only those who have been through it can really understand the true rollercoaster it is. Lucky for our premature babies that only we mothers carry the memories of those bumpy few weeks/months. I can still say that nothing made the experience easier, except their amazing surival. I trully know how lucky I am to have my children with me growing normally every day.:)

    • Oh wow, thanks for sharing your incredible journey with us Genevieve. What inspiriting strength you have in the face of your suffering. It’s interesting that even after 10 years you still mourn the loss of the “firsts” with your twins. To not be able to cuddle them and bring them home with you for 10 weeks must have been so traumatic. That’s an incredibly hard situation to deal with and it sounds to me like you handled it very well. To nearly lose your daughter (a few times) is unimaginable. It’s not surprising that you found yourself struggling with PND and PTSS. But you make an important point that the premature babies don’t remember those early weeks and months. Your daughters SURVIVED and are thriving now due to your love and care. Thanks so much for sharing your story – i think it’s so helpful for mums in this situation to know they are not alone :-)

  5. Excellent information, support, and encouragement, Michaela. I have helped mothers with babies and young children for many years, mainly through breastfeeding support. All birthing mothers need TLC, especially those who face any kind of trauma, to include premature birth. Thank you for sharing! I followed you on Twitter and look forward to sharing your information there.

    • Hi Angie,
      Thanks so much for your feedback. It was such an interesting topic to research. I learnt so much about the needs of mothers and infants who face these struggles. And yes, all birthing mothers need TLC, especially the traumatic deliveries, because as I discovered, the trauma doesn’t end there, even if the baby is OK. What a wonderful area you work in – you are helping mothers who are in a vulnerable situation. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, and for sharing this post.

  6. Our twin girls were born 9 weeks ago at 24+6 weeks gestation. We are 3 hours away so were rushed to Melbourne to have an emergency c-section. The girls were 600 & 697 grams and have had many ups and downs. We are still in NICU and have good days and bad. Family support means so much. Just a text message to say they are thinking of us helps. My husband has to stay at home and work through the week then he travels 3 hours each Friday to come up to Romsld McDonald House where I am staying at to see me @ the girls at weekends. During the week when he is at home on his own friends will cook for him, mow the lawn or just be there if he needs to chat. It is great to know whilst I am here dealing with this, with the support of the nurses, families & people at Ronald McDonald House, he is at home not able to be here but also being looked after and supported. We feel so blessed to have these strong beautiful girls and feel very lucky to have the amazing family and friends we have in our lives to love them and guide them in the future x

    • Oh Rebecca, what a traumatic time you’ve had the past 9 weeks. I am so sorry to hear that you and your twin girls have endured such a struggle. You say that you feel blessed to have such strong beautiful girls so that must mean that your girls are receiving great care and are getting stronger every day. It must be so hard for you and I don’t think it’s something anyone can truly understand unless they have been through it. You have also given some great tips on how family and friends can help support parents of premature babies. It’s nice that friends are pitching in and helping your hubby with meals and mowing the lawns etc These are great, practical ways people can show their support. Your daughters are very lucky to have such a strong mum too! I wish you and your precious daughters a lifetime of happiness and health. If you feel like sharing your story in more detail, when you are home and life is calm and stable, please drop me a line. I think this is such an important area and I’d like to write about it to generate greater awareness. All the best x

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