When sick or premature babies are ready to go home: your emotions
You’ve probably been dreaming of this day for weeks or even months. You might have worried that it would never happen. Yet the day finally arrives – your sick or premature baby is ready to go home from hospital.
It’s OK to have mixed emotions.
There’s a lot to look forward to – even simple things like having the privacy to stay in your pyjamas all day if you want to. But many parents also feel nervous about caring for their baby on their own for the first time.
With planning, preparation and support from hospital staff, family and friends, you can feel confident about taking your baby home.
Before sick or premature babies go home
It might help to know that the hospital won’t discharge your sick or premature baby until staff are confident that both you and your baby are ready.
This usually means that your baby no longer needs the hospital’s specialist equipment and medical care. If your baby was premature, this might be when they:
- are steadily gaining weight
- can breastfeed or bottle-feed at all feeds
- have no breathing problems
- can keep their body temperature steady in an open cot.
This might happen a few weeks before your premature baby’s expected birth date. It might take longer if your baby has had surgery or help with breathing.
In the weeks before your baby is ready to come home, the hospital staff will help you to take over your baby’s care – for example, feeding, nappy changing, dressing and bathing. If your baby is still on oxygen or needs other equipment, you’ll also be shown how to use the equipment.
Many hospitals have private rooms where you can spend time with your baby before taking them home. This lets you be on your own with your baby, care for them and adjust to their sounds in the privacy of your own room. You might be able to take your baby for a walk in a pram within the hospital to get used to being independent.
The hospital will give you a plan for follow-up medical appointments with neonatologists from the hospital or other specialists. Or you might see a paediatrician or other specialists privately for follow-up checks.
You’ll also see a child and family health nurse or other community health professional who specialises in babies and families.
It’s a good idea to have a list of family and friends who can help you practically and emotionally during this transition time and the early months at home.
Preparing for sick or premature babies to go home: tips
Your premature baby’s homecoming is more likely to go smoothly if you’re prepared. Here are some ideas about getting ready from parents of premature babies.
Preparing your home, car and equipment
- Get your home and baby equipment ready. You’ll want to focus on caring for and getting to know your baby better, not putting equipment together.
- Give your house a thorough clean.
- Prepare healthy meals in advance and freeze them.
- Make sure your baby’s car seat is properly installed. If your baby has any special requirements, an occupational therapist or another member of the hospital staff can help you. You can also ask hospital staff to check that your baby is stable in the car seat before you leave.
- Prepare your pet for your baby’s arrival. For example, bring home a piece of clothing or a blanket with your baby’s scent, adjust your pet’s feeding and exercise routines, and change your pet’s sleep or play areas.
- Accept help. If friends and family offer to help with cooking, looking after older children, gardening or shopping, say ‘Yes, please!’
- Ask the hospital staff any last-minute questions,. Make sure you know how to use any medical equipment you’re taking with you. And find out what you should do if your baby becomes unwell or there’s an emergency.
- Make sure you’ve got all the contact details for follow-up appointments. It’s also helpful to get a number for a contact person at the hospital in case you need to ask anything.
- Get familiar with safe sleeping positions for your baby. Positions and bedding for home might be different from those that your baby needed in hospital.
- Find out about playgroups. You might like to go to a playgroup for parents of premature babies, as well as the usual parent groups. Your child and family health nurse can tell you about local options.
- Collect contact details for the parents from hospital that you want to keep in touch with. Many parents find that they stay friends with parents they met in hospital.
- Warn family and friends that your baby might need to be protected from too much handling and too many new people at first. This helps to prevent infections and overstimulation.
- Ask anyone who’s ill to stay away. And also ask your immediate family and anyone who’ll see your baby regularly if they’ve had their recommended immunisations.
It’s nice to say goodbye to the hospital staff who’ve supported and cared for you and your baby over the previous weeks and months. You can do this in person or by writing a card or a letter. Not all staff will be working on the day your baby goes home, so you might need to say goodbye a few days before.
Discharge day for sick or premature babies
It’s a good idea to keep the homecoming day as quiet and gentle as possible. This will help your baby feel calm and able to cope with all the changes – like travelling in a car and going outside.
You can do this by being well prepared. For example, plan the day around your baby’s feeding schedule if you can. Also, if you put your baby’s ‘going home clothes’ on after their last hospital bath, you won’t need to wake your baby to get them dressed.
It’s a good idea to take your baby home to just your immediate family – you, your partner and your other children. This way you can all get used to each other.
Some parents tell family and friends that they’d like no visits for a couple of days after their baby gets home. Others are keen to celebrate, but it’s wise to keep celebrations to just a few visitors at your home.