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What NOT To Say To The Mum of a Premature Baby

Contribution by Neri Withers. Neri’s own experience with premature babies led her to build an information resource and online store for parents with tiny miracles. Nashi Baby features premmie clothes and toys  for even the tiniest little person.

Five Things NOT to Say to a Mum of a Premature Baby

Premmie babies are a magnificent blessing… but also one of the hardest times parents go through. The idea that your baby may not be OK, the wait and see game, it’s a terribly stressful time. For family and friends it’s hard to know what to say, and what not to say to the mum of a premature baby.  You may actually be shocked when you see a premature baby for the first time. There’s a tiny little face staring back at you from the humidicrib. So small, petite and vulnerable. It’s such an emotional experience and you’re dedicated to protecting that new life. So with all this in mind, and adding in a bunch of hormones, it’s safe to say there are some things that should be left unsaid when talking to the mum of a premature baby.

1. “You’re being sooooo over-protective”

When you’re a mum of a premature baby there is an overwhelming desire to protect your childs’ health at all costs. You don’t want to leave anything to chance so yes, there will be an abundance hand sanitiser and packets baby wipes around the house, in the car and in the nappy bag. Yes, you will be asked to wash your hands and no, you will not be allowed to hold or come near the baby if you have a cold. This includes immediate family. Keep your germs at home!

2. “He/she is so tiny!”

Well, yes. She is a premature baby she’s going to be small. Stating the obvious only puts more concern into the mum’s mind about whether the baby is being fed enough or growing enough to catch up with others the same age. She’s probably seen other premmies in the NICU come and go, some well, some facing lifelong challenges, help her take it one day at a time.

3. “What are the doctors saying today?”

Usually the doctors are saying “wait and see”, especially if the baby is very premature. If there’s been a developmental break through overnight, the bub’s mum will no doubt let you know – there’s so much relief and joy to be found in small victories. Wait for the mum to tell you what’s going on, don’t ask her for bad or no news. Similarly, she may not be ready to relive the frightening day that her baby was born. Nobody has a birth plan that’s all about the baby coming far too early – don’t ask her to delve into the details.

4. “What are the chances he’s going to be normal?”

Normal. The word in general is offensive to mums of premature babies. Very premmie babies may have struggles associated with lung and brain development. There’s nothing a new mum can do about that but hope. Developmental delays down the road are just evoke a whole new level of fear and sadness. Don’t even ask.

5. “What happened, why did you have a premature baby?”

There is sometimes a preconception about premature births that the mother did something wrong to cause the baby to come early. Statements like “But, you didn’t drink or smoke” may make the mother feel like she did something wrong – even though premmie babies sometimes just happen. Where a medical condition was likely the cause of the baby’s early arrival, you make be making the mother feel like it was her fault for having an underlying condition. Chances are, she doesn’t know what happened or why her baby came early. If she does know, she may be feeling a complex combination of sadness, fear, hopefulness, guilt and worry. She may not feel up to expressing that to you.

Chances are, the mother of a premature baby is experiencing emotional turmoil that even her nearest and dearest cannot even hope to understand. Try to see the tiny little face looking up at you in the NICU for what she is, a beautiful little blessing. Tell the mum how beautiful she is, take the time to source premmie baby clothes as gifts, help the new mum experience those early “joyful moments” she may be denying herself. What happens next is all about one day at a time. Brighten her day today.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

15 thoughts on “What NOT To Say To The Mum of a Premature Baby”

  1. My daughter was 16wks early and 747grams(1pound,10 ounces) and I constantly was asked what was wrong with her/me!?! Think before you speak people!! My Ex father in-law walked in took one look at her and said he wanted to start organising her sweet 16 lo really helped to know someone had a positive attitude xx

  2. I also have a Heartkid who was in hospital for 19 weeks before he came home for the first time. The amount of Drs and Nurses who say, “aw, he’s so cute! I just wanna take him home!” …YOU want to?! How do you think me and my husband feel?!

  3. I got told, by a friend who has no kids, “at least giving birth didn’t hurt so much cause he’s so little!” !!!!!!!!! I’ll have you know, he was stuck! And was the most painful birth out of all 3 of my kids!

  4. I think the same can be said for ‘sick’ babies also in the NICU. My first was a scn prem bub and my second was a sick full term bub.
    I got sick of hearing “whatever happens is for the best”, “everything happens for a reason” and the best of all was by the midwife who delivered my daughter telling me that maybe I would have to have another baby while the NETS team were telling me my 3 hour old daughter probably wouldn’t make the transfer :/
    I understand people don’t know what to say, in those situations, a hug or a hand squeeze or just a look can be enough.

  5. I guess the annoying thing for me was people assumed because he was big that he was “fine” they couldn’t understand why he was in special care and under antibiotics. He was a predicted 10 pounder.

  6. When will he get to go home?
    Doesn’t seem like much… but life with a premature baby is day to day. Sometimes hour to hour. Looking at when home coming will be sometimes seems eternity away. And the answer is never black and white.

  7. Some people just dont know what to say in these situations and end up saying something silly. Just like when someone has a miscarriage sometimes people say the silliest thing unintentionally

  8. That it must be so good not having to get up in the night and having other people care so the dirty work (nappies) Yeah that’s exactly what I was thinking as my son lay helpless in an incubator and I was discharged from the hospital and having to leave without him. So good. Not. Unless you actually have a preemie people just have no idea!

  9. I have had 3 prem babies the earliest a 32 weeker and the thing that is said the most is I wish I got my baby early no trust me you don’t leaving hospital without your baby and laying awake at night at home wondering if tonight you get a call saying he has stopped breathing or back on ventilation is not worth having your baby early

  10. So many silly comments, at least u won’t have to deal with the sleepless night for the next 6 weeks, asking if I could hold or touch my own baby was hard!

  11. Not me, but when my best friend had my niece the nurse at the hospital said that she couldn’t visit her daughter when she wanted to and also said she couldnt hold her. It was not that she wasn’t allowed to hold her, it was that it inconvenienced the nurse to have to move the cables and such around so that she could hold her.

  12. The very worst thing ever said to me was my sister’s idiot of a boyfriend who saw my tiny son and said, ah well, nevermind, you know, you can try again if this one doesn’t work out, at least you’re not old. I think he was trying to be positive but really, we were all delighted when they broke up.

  13. My son was only four weeks premature but still spent a lot of time in special care under lights. My dad really struggled with it. He was so pessimistic it just made his visits really difficult.

  14. When I had my daughter at 33 weeks I think I heard “she’s soooo small” at least a hundred times. The NICU nurses used to give me knowing smiles by the end of it. She’s a very healthy bouncy three year old now, so hang in there mums!


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