Getting mentally and emotionally ready for premature birth
If you know you might have a premature birth and a baby who’ll need to stay in hospital, you and your partner might feel a range of emotions. For example, you might feel joy, love, helplessness, sadness, guilt, fear, worry or grief that your baby’s birth won’t be what you expected.
It can help you and your partner, if you have one, to read up on premature births and premature babies. It’s also good to talk to your doctor or midwife and ask questions about premature labour and birth. Speaking to other parents who’ve had a premature baby will probably help too.
You might already have a birth plan. For example, you might have planned to give birth at home or at a birthing centre. But this might need to change if it looks like you’ll have a premature birth.
No-one knows exactly what will happen until the time comes, but it’ll help if you’ve thought about the kind of birth you want and whether it’s still the best option for you and your baby.
Even if your baby has already arrived when the hospital holds its antenatal classes, it’s a good idea to go along to any that are relevant to you. Antenatal classes aren’t just about birth – they also teach you about looking after your newborn.
Staying calm before premature birth
You might feel confused or overwhelmed in the lead-up to the birth. Here are some strategies that can help you manage these strong emotions and stay calm:
- Do breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises or mindfulness exercises.
- Do activities and hobbies that relax you. For example, listen to relaxing music, go for a walk, paint, read or take a warm bath.
- Take things one step at a time. For example, focus on what you need to do today, and try not to worry about what might happen tomorrow.
- Focus on positive thoughts – for example, try thinking about your baby in a calm, loving and positive way.
- Ask for help if you need it. You can talk to your partner, a family member or a trusted friend. You can also talk to your doctor or midwife.
Getting familiar with the NICU
Your baby might be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after the birth. Babies in NICUs tend to have a lot of machines and technology all around them, which can be overwhelming and even scary at first. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the NICU as a nursery.
If you and your partner visit the NICU before the birth, it will feel more familiar when you visit your baby there. Your doctor or midwife can arrange this for you.
Preparing siblings for a premature birth and baby
It’s a good idea to talk with your older children before you go to hospital.
Talking with your children about what’s happening can help them to feel less anxious and confused about the change in plans. They might worry that they caused the baby to come early, or that they’ll catch the baby’s illness. You can let them know that they didn’t do anything and they can’t catch the baby’s illness.
Give your children a rough idea of how long you and their brother or sister will be in hospital – for example, how many days, weeks or sleeps. You could make a calendar that your older children can draw on. It can show when they visited, and they can also use it to cross off the days until their brother or sister comes home.
It’s a good idea to explain that you and your partner might be spending a lot of time visiting the hospital. It can also help children to know who’ll be looking after them while you’re in hospital or visiting your baby in the NICU.
You could talk to children about visiting the baby. If you show children pictures of premature babies, they’ll be better prepared for what the baby will look like when they visit. They could do a drawing to give to the baby, so they feel closer to their new sibling.
You could also read books to help your older children understand what a premature baby is like. For example, Rosie and Tortoise by Margaret Wild is about the birth of a premature baby in a rabbit family.
Preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for premature birth is important. There are also many practical things you can do before premature birth to make things easier for yourself and your family.