When you’re having a premature baby or baby with health problems
You might know ahead of time that your baby will be born early or with health problems.
For example, you might be in hospital or on bed rest for pregnancy complications that make a premature or complicated birth likely. You might be having twins or higher multiples. Or antenatal scans and tests have shown that your baby has a condition that will affect their health or development.
Practical things to do before complicated or 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 and sick 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 can help.
If you can, 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 might need it for expressed breastmilk.
Organise care for other children
It can be a big help if friends or relatives can look after your other children sometimes or pick them up after child care or school.
For example, there might be times when you want to stay at the hospital with your baby for longer than you planned, or you might want to visit together with your partner, if you have one.
You’ll also want to introduce your other children to their new sibling, 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 are other adults to look after your children when they visit the NICU.
Note that visitors are often limited to 2 at a time in the NICU.
Organise help at home
If you have a caesarean, driving isn’t recommended for about 6 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!
You’ll feel more in control and less stressed and tired if things run as normally as possible. And sticking to your usual routines will help your other children cope with what’s going on.
Have contact people
Keeping everyone up to date with news about your baby can be exhausting. So it can help to have 1-2 people who are contacts for everyone else.
You can let these people know what’s going on, and they can pass it on. For example, a grandparent might send group updates 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 want to help, but sometimes don’t know how to. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you need – many people like knowing exactly what to do. And if you’re not sure who can help you or how, you could try mapping your support network before the birth.
Getting ready for hospital and the NICU
Think about who’ll take you to the hospital, stay with you and support you.
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 other support person can bring what you need later.
You might want to take photos or videos in the NICU. This is usually OK if your phone is set to airplane mode. Or you might prefer to take a camera.
You might like to keep a diary to record your baby’s progress, daily changes and questions for doctors and nurses. There are also smartphone apps that can help you keep track of development.
If your baby is staying in a private hospital, you’ll probably need to bring your own baby clothes.
If your baby is staying in a public hospital, you probably won’t need 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.
There are baby clothes designed for premmies. These are easy to put on and take off and are made with very soft fabrics.
A few practical preparations before the birth can take the pressure off you and your family. It’s also good to take time to prepare yourself emotionally before birth.