Friday 1 July 2011

What Not to Say - Premature Birth and New Mums

Regardless of whether you have had a premature baby or a full term one, those first weeks are hard. There is so much to learn, and the sleep deprivation makes everything seem that much harder. If you have had a premature baby there are common things people say that are just not helpful.

At least whilst they are in hospital you are getting a full night's sleep. Yes, so relaxing, expressing 3 hourly, pining for your baby who may be many miles away. So no, it's not any easier having a baby in NICU. Major fail.

Is he a good baby? There is no such thing as a bad baby. They're babies. Why not ask an open question like "How are things going?" or "How are you enjoying being a mum?"

At least you don't have to have a third trimester. At least you haven't got all big and fat. I don't know a single mum of a premature baby who is happy that they've skipped the third trimester (although I do joke about eating my body weight in stilton and brie at 28 weeks). And I don't know anyone who has not grieved for the bump they never had. I haven't got a single bump shot, and there are only about two photos of me that exist whilst pregnant.

At least he was small and easy to push out - a contraction is a contraction, whether your baby is 3lb or 9lb. There's actually some evidence that preterm delivery is harder, because the baby has not developed fully and doesn't know what to do, and heavier babies have gravity to help them. Also the hormones and endorphins that stimulate labour haven't all kicked in yet. One of my friends still had to have an episiotomy despite her baby being born at 26+6.

My cousin's neighbour's milkman plays rugby league, is 6ft 8 inches and was 1lb 8oz at birth - direct, verifiable stories are fine, its the urban legends that are sometimes not want you need to hear.

Will he/she be disabled? - First of all, prematurity does not necessarily mean a child will be disabled. Secondly, and importantly, most disabilities related to prematurity take a long time to rear their heads. The parents won't know for months, maybe years. Just don't go there.

Gosh, you look tired - Um....yes, I have a new baby, of course I'm tired.

When can you take your baby home? Typically you are told a week before it happens. It depends on so many factors, just don't ask. It used to upset me so much, if I said "oh around the 7th August" (Joseph's due date) people would say "oh gosh that's such a long time, how will you cope?" I'd have to hold back the floods of tears threatening to flow. Especially when it was still May.

You had a c-section, lucky you - yeah lucky, lucky me, I had a section at 27 weeks, catheterised, full of iv lines and a spinal block. Oh lucky me. I would have given anything to push my son out the lambing end, no matter how hard that might have been.

On showing her baby's photo a friend said "oh what a shame you can't photoshop the CPAP tube out isn't it? Those tubes and wires keep our babies alive, for a time, they are part of them, and they're important. We're sad our babies are early, but we accept them, as they are, in the here and now.

He's got the premmie head - the first person who said that to me was my GP. He was saved from a black eye because he then showed me photos of his three babies all with the "premmie head". Please don't refer to the "prem look" all babies are individuals and beautiful just the way they are.

She looks like a normal baby - um, just what were you expecting?

What's wrong with your baby? - This one was suggested by a few people who had babies coming home on oxygen. I know so many people who had babies home on oxygen, but I'm not sure I've ever seen one out and about or hadn't before having Joseph, so I can understand people are curious, but ask nicely if you really have to ask!

The last one is the inspiration for this piece. My friend has just had her second baby, also premature.

Gosh, you look like you were never pregnant........


  1. Gosh its amazing, I could have written this myself. My little one was born nearly 7 years ago! I never knew he had a 'premmie head' until he was 8 months old and a kind lady pointed it out to me! Although it was more of a shock finding out his hair was bright orange a week after birth as we hadnt had him near natural light before that! Lol. He is beautiful!

  2. Good post. Can't believe some one said lucky to have a c-section! That's ridiculous, it's major surgery.

  3. Hi Kylie! I just had a sister for Jethro 11 weeks ago, Sadie, and am always being asked if she is a "good" baby. I've taken to replying, "Well, she hasn't robbed a servo yet, so I'm happy!"
    Hope all is well!
    Zoe Smith xxx