If you think or know that your baby will be born early, there are lots of practical things you can do to prepare. Organising help and stocking up on food at home can make things easier after premature birth.
When you know you’re having a premature birth
You might know ahead of time that your baby will be born early, or is likely to be born early.
You might be in hospital or on bed rest for pregnancy complications that make a premature birth likely. Or you might be having twins or higher multiples.
Practical things to do before premature birth
You’ll be busy with your new baby after the birth. And if your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where many premature babies are first cared for, you’ll want to be there as much as possible.
It can be difficult to fit in everyday chores like shopping and cooking, so planning ahead and getting support can help.
Stock your freezer and cupboards with essentials well in advance. Frozen home-cooked meals are a good idea.
Also, if you make school lunches for your other children, you can make sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them. The older children can have frozen sandwiches some days, and fresh ones other days.
Leave some space in your freezer, though – you’ll probably need it for expressed breastmilk.
Organise care for other children
Friends or relatives who can look after your other children sometimes – or pick them up after child care or school – can be a huge help.
For example, there might be times when you want to stay at the hospital visiting your baby for longer than you planned, or you and your partner might want to visit together.
You’ll also want to introduce your children to their new brother or sister, but it can be hard for children to be still and quiet in the NICU. Some NICUs don’t let siblings visit because of the risk of spreading coughs and colds. You could organise for grandparents or friends to visit at the same time, so there’s another adult who can look after your children while you’re in the NICU.
Note that visitors are often limited to two at a time beside a premature baby’s bed.
Organise help at home
If you have a caesarean, driving isn’t recommended for about six weeks until your wound is well healed. Friends and family might be happy to help out by taking you to the hospital.
If you can get someone to help you with the cleaning, putting out washing, ironing, grocery shopping and so on – do! Keeping everything running smoothly and as normally as possible will help you feel more in control and a little less stressed and tired.
Sticking to normal routines will also help your other children cope with what’s going on.
Have contact people
Keeping everyone up to date with how your baby is going can be exhausting. So it can be helpful to have one or two people who are contacts for everyone else.
You can let these people know what’s going on – by phone, text messages, emails, blogs – and they can pass it on. For example, a grandparent might send group emails every couple of days and also be the telephone contact for other family members.
Let well-wishers know that the contact people will pass their names onto you, so you know that people are thinking of you.
When the baby is coming and you’ve gone to hospital, you can ask your contact people to let others know. You might even have a list of people for them to get in touch with.
Friends and family often really want to help, but sometimes don’t know how to. Don’t be afraid to tell people what help you need – many people like knowing exactly what to do.
Getting ready for hospital
Think about who will take you to the hospital, stay with you, support you and rally around in practical ways.
You’ll also need to get your hospital bag ready. Even if you haven’t packed it, it’s a good idea to have a list of what you want to go into it. If you don’t have time to pack the bag, leave the list so your partner or a friend can bring what you need later.
Take a camera. You might think you’ll never forget this time in your life, but the details can fade. You might also like to keep a diary to record your baby’s progress, daily changes and questions for doctors and nurses. If you want to use your mobile phone to take photos, this might be possible if it’s set on airplane mode.
If your baby will be staying in the hospital, you probably won’t need premature baby clothes – the hospital will have what your baby needs. But once your baby is medically stable and can handle being dressed, you might like to use your own baby clothes. Choose clothes designed for premmies. These are easy to put on and take off and are made with very soft fabrics.