My post today is geared, I suppose pretty much as always to mothers of premature babies, but I think the principles are the same for all mums. Thank you Emma for suggesting this post.
Congratulations -This is somewhat controversial, I know some mums of premature babies (and I admit in the first days I felt like this) feel that this is not appropriate if a baby is born very small, very sick and/or very premature. But I think in hindsight most mums are happy that people congratulated and celebrated this new life.
How are you doing? I think in situations where the baby is poorly its better to ask how the mum is doing first, and she'll probably offer a lot of information about the baby and how they are doing too. I think putting the mum and dad first is important, and also if things are going badly its not as confronting for the mum.
What can I do to help? Don't say "if there's anything I can do?" because it puts the onus back on the parents to ask, expect to help and ask what you can do. If you are bold, or can see an obvious gap, offer something specific "I'd love to drop around a meal for you" or turn up with home baked biscuits or cake, or offer to run errands or give lifts to hospital.
Tell me about the baby - I know I loved being asked about Joseph, as hard as it was to talk about him. I preferred an open question to some of the closed, ones as it was easier, I could then share as much or as little as I wanted. With premature babies things change so quickly, some days were wonderful, and other days were so horrible, I couldn't begin to describe to an outsider what was going on.
What a beautiful baby - Don't tell me how small my baby is, I already know, tell me he's beautiful, or clever, or has gorgeous eyelashes. Tell me something positive!
May I touch your baby? Ask first. Don't go reaching in to a pram and touch. Very often premature babies need very gentle touching with scrupulously clean hands. And be ok if the answer is no.
That must have been difficult, would you like to talk about it or would you prefer not to? Give the new mum an "out" pass. Sometimes its so hard to talk about birth, and this goes as much for term mummies as it does for those who have had a premature baby.
I hope that's more positive and gives some ideas of things to say in difficult situations and I would love to hear your ideas too.