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.