This post is aimed at both parents bringing home babies who have been in hospital for some time, but also for those with term babies. The issues are similar. A baby who has been in special care has had all their needs met by a team of people, the world in the ward is very different to how it will be at home. A term baby has had all their needs met by mum in the womb, and the world in the womb is very different to world outside.
It’s so hard to communicate with a newborn, to understand what it is they want and need. There are books, and organisations, and people who can help, but you do know your baby best, and you will work it out. It’s a bit like being in a new relationship, you are desperate for things to work out, and it will, but it will take time. It’s ok to feel like your baby is an alien creature with its own language, at times!
The first big problem is feeding. Obviously in the womb babies are fed continuously. On the special care word its usually similar, a baby starts on continuous feeds and then its stepped out getting longer and longer. Whole books have been written on feeding, and there is no right way to feed your baby, I don’t care what anyone says. Your approach will be based on whether you are bottle or breast feeding, but it will take time to sort it all out. In the case of a premature baby you will probably be given a schedule and some idea of when and how much you should feed your baby. You may find that once you get home things go to pot a bit, and this is normal. There is definitely a settling in period.
Sleeping can be a major issue. I found it really difficult at first, that Joseph slept so well in hospital, and at home, he just seemed to be not happy at all. He didn’t want to sleep in his cot, or moses basket, or even with us particularly. It was hard. In the end our special care outreach nurse, who visited regularly until Joseph had been with us a month, suggested Joseph sleep in his pram. It worked very well, until one evening Joseph aspirated on his vomit. Fortunately I heard him, and got him breathing again, but decided that this was a bad solution as it impeded his visibility to me, and it also meant it took me a bit longer to get to him. After that I worked harder to get him to sleep in his crib.
When a baby has been in special care, they are used to a lot of light, and a lot of noise. People manage this in various ways. I’m afraid that I made Joseph go cold turkey. I wasn’t prepared to have a light on all night, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to have “white noise”. One of my friends had a cd of running water, which would have driven me even more insane. Others have left the radio on all night, or static noise. I couldn’t sleep like that. Over time Joseph got more and more comfortable, but I would say it took us about a month to get him to the point where he was content, self settling easily at night, and in a good rhythm of sleeps and feeding.
I am totally in favour of baby wearing, especially for premature babies. When the baby is in hospital, you are a mum, but not a mum, you are physically separated from your baby. You know each other, but not intimately yet, not like you would be if the baby had been born at term.
I think baby wearing helps to bridge this gap and get you used to each other. There are many types of slings, but I am most certainly talking about a sling, not a baby carrier. I think wrap slings are best, and yes, they do take a bit of time to learn to tie, but they are comfy for both the baby and the mother. Joseph would sleep for hours in the sling, I could take him out in public and know that people would not reach to touch him, for fear of grabbing my boobs!
In the first month, I think its important to have a nice rhythm of sleeps, feeds and gentle activity, walks, chats, stories, watching television, and snuggling. I don’t really believe in strict timed routines, but if you try and keep an idea of when and how you want to do something and even write it down, you will start to see a pattern forming which will frame a routine.
I think its important to try and meet other mums and dads. It is difficult when you have had a premature baby and it can be confronting to join groups. I would urge you to try and make friends on the unit. I have four other mums (and a couple of others I met earlier in the stay), who I met up with regularly in the beginning, and still see now. I also attended our local Sure Start children’s centre. It wasn’t always easy, and I did get fed up of explaining why I had such a small baby, and answering difficult questions when really I could have done with conversations about what was on television last night!
I found that speaking to the staff helped, my support worker would see me in these difficult conversations and change the subject, or have a “quiet word”.
Over time things will start to get easier, and the time in hospital will start to become a distant, and less painful memory (I didn’t believe people when they said this). As scary as things can be at times, remember that this won’t last forever, and your baby won’t be tiny forever, and like me, you will one day find that you look fondly on the endless night feeds, the snuggles, and the looks of adoration from your tiny baby and those first smiles.