Coming home without my baby is the hardest thing I have ever done. I was “lucky” in that I was poorly so I had to stay in hospital for seven nights when Joseph was born. My room was upstairs on the antenatal ward, and his room was downstairs, about a 5 minute walk (or 10 minutes post c-section!). I loved it because I could just pop in. If I woke at 3am to express, I could tiptoe down, drop off my milk and pop in for a natter. I loved those late night chats, no doctors doing rounds, nurses keeping to themselves, no phone calls, just the gentle hum of equipment, and my baby.
I knew, from the moment I was told I was having my baby at 27 weeks, that Joseph would be in until his due date, at the very least. I knew I would only be kept in hospital until I was clinically well. The NHS care guideline for c-section is generally four nights, but because of my complications, I was allowed seven nights. Joseph was in for 76 nights. That’s a lot of nights being separated from my baby, and for many other mums and dads, it is a lot longer.
Hospitals usually cannot accommodate parents on the unit. They do have bedrooms but these are generally reserved for “rooming n” spending a couple of nights with your baby prior to discharge. Some hospitals have accommodation of your baby is far from home, but even that isn’t guaranteed.
Here are my tips for coming home without your baby.
- Ask if you can leave a muslin with your baby (clean and prewashed in non biological washing liquid/powder) and then swap it with one you have slept with. It will increase your feelings of being connected with your baby and may help with expressing milk.
- Leave a photograph of yourselves (you and the daddy if appropriate) most hospitals will put these inside the incubator.
- Decide how much time you feel you are able to spend at the hospital, and review this every few days. When I first came home, I could only manage an hour each day. I would go in the morning, my husband would go in the evening. Later I started going twice, and then staying most of the day.
- Take photographs every day if you can. It’s amazing how quickly your baby will start looking different, and more baby like!
- Make time for yourself. Your baby should still be inside, you have had a lot of upheaval, and you will probably be stressed. Make time to read (something non baby related), get your hair done, or do some shopping. It’s ok not to be at the hospital all the time, your baby needs to sleep, to grow, and needs a happy, relaxed mummy.
- If you have other children, it’s very difficult to balance the whole family. Try not to feel guilt if you can’t go in every day, explain to the staff about your situation at home.
- Make time to express milk, you really do need to make sure you do it three hourly and once through the night.
- Find what works for you. I couldn’t look at pictures of Joseph, it made me sad, and I couldn’t produce milk, its meant to help! Scent helped me better, exchange of muslins, or taking his hat and later vests that he had worn.
- Ring the unit whenever you feel you need to. Sometimes I would wake in tears, and it would help me to ring and get an update. Every time I rang everything was fine, but it made me feel better!
- Make time to spend with your husband, and divide up tasks between you. Make time to talk about the future and buy things for your new baby!
- Eat. I tell all my new premature mummy friends this, so much so that it’s become a joke, but you really do need to eat. If you are expressing you need to eat at least 2000 calories a day, even more at times, to ensure your milk is best quality and calorie rich. Now is not the time to diet.
- I can’t emphasise this enough but take all offers of help. If anyone says “is there anything I can do?” give them a job. Washing, ironing, cooking you a meal, driving you to hospital...anything!
- If you are really struggling, make sure you tell the staff at the hospital, speak to your favourite nurse or the unit manager, there may be solution, perhaps they can accommodate you for a couple of days. There is nothing harder than being physically separated from your baby and the staff will understand that.
It sounds callous, but your baby has got the best baby sitters on the planet, don’t feel guilty for using this time to get ready, physically and emotionally, for your baby to come home with you. It will be the sweetest day of your life, and worth the wait.