5 Things Parents of Premature Babies Still Do Even When Their Babies Become Toddlers
The possibility of having a premature baby isn’t something that I really thought about when I was pregnant. I didn’t know anything about the Neonatal Unit and what went on there, until at 30 weeks gestation, my baby girl was delivered by emergency cesarean and I was plunged into an unknown world of incubators, monitors and breathing apparatus for the tiniest miracle babies.
Having a baby in the NNU with the very real fear of losing them, is something that is undoubtedly going to have an impact on how a child is brought up. In order to look into this further, I set up a focus group of parents with premature babies born between 2010 and 2013, to see how they believe their experiences have shaped their parenting styles today.
I must stress that this is by no means academic research with credible findings, it’s merely an interest piece.
The following five points are common to every parent in the group and we attribute them to our experiences of having a premature baby.
Nightly breathing checks
When you have a premature baby, the threat that they might just stop breathing is very real. In the NNU, the majority of babies need breathing help through pumps and ventilators and as they grow and develop, these are replaced by machines that monitor heart beats and beep hysterically if something is amiss. Taking our daughter home, without a monitor to alert us if she stopped breathing was a terrifying experience. I found myself endlessly checking her heart beat, placing a hand on her chest to make sure it was rising and falling or actually waking her from her sleep to make sure she was still with us. I’m sure many new parents do this regardless of whether their baby was premature, but 3-6 years on, every parent in the group still checks their child’s breathing when they are sleeping or sits with them until they fall asleep, regardless of whether they are healthy and well or if they have ever had any cause for concern.
Use a sleeping monitor
It’s common practice to use a monitor to make sure your baby is safe when they sleep but at age 3, I confess my daughter still sleeps with a monitor. I realise that this is probably not necessary but it relates back to my point above. Some of the parents in the group used audio only monitors whilst others used video and apnoea settings, but most did so until their child turned at least 3.
View their child as fragile
This is the only point that divided my group. It seems that we waver from feeling that we need to protect our children more because of their start, to viewing them as fighters who have beaten the odds. Certainly, we agree that we are often over protective with a desire to ‘step in’ in certain situations when we should perhaps take a step back.
Maintain a connection with the unit
All of the parents I spoke to still have some kind of connection to the unit that looked after their child. There is no doubt that the staff in these units are special people and it is natural to want to support their work and parents going through what we did through fundraising efforts. However, the connection goes much deeper than that. All the parents in my group either attend a regular coffee morning, help out with support groups and meet ups or attend annual events. It seems that we just cannot let go of our time there. This goes some way to show how much of an impact having a premature baby can have on a family.
Celebrate milestones with ‘then and now’ pictures
I’m guilty of it. I recently posted on Facebook ‘I can’t believe my little miracle is about to turn 3’ complete with pictures of her 2lb 4oz baby photos and photos of her all caught up. I’m always finding things that remind me of how small she was and I can’t help but share it. It is still so amazing to me that someone so small could have grown at such a rate that to look at her now, you would never guess she was premature. For some of the parents in my group, then and now photos are still something they find very painful.