You know how it was meant to be, right? The glowing infant in your arms, the delighted family, and safely back home after a few days at most. Just like everyone else. But then suddenly everything turns out differently. How do you cope when your baby comes much too early? And what challenges will you need to overcome with a preemie baby?
According to the WHO definition, children born before the 37th week of pregnancy are considered premature / preemies. A further distinction is made depending on the week of pregnancy at which the baby is born:
Thanks to today’s medical advances, even babies born as early as in the 24th week of pregnancy have a good chance of survival. However, the earlier the baby comes and the lower the birth weight, the greater the risk of permanent damage to the brain and/or organs. To maximize protection, premature babies are delivered by Caesarean section wherever possible.
What problems do premature infants have to contend with?
Most parents of premature babies live in constant fear for their child. Depending on how much medical intervention is needed and how preterm labour occurred, even the sight of the child can be painful for the parents. Opportunities for bonding can be severely limited as a result – even though physical contact is always encouraged whenever possible, as it can also contribute to the baby’s development.
Some parents are forced to commute for weeks between hospital and home or even live in a hospital for a while. Normal everyday life and work is barely possible, if at all. Even more so than for all other new parents, everything revolves around the baby and its health.
Many things are different for parents of premature babies:
The best place to start is being mindful of your own language. Statements like “I know someone who was born premature and is now quite normal” are not helpful. Nobody knows what will happen. The parents may be expecting months of lengthy therapy. And what does “normal” mean anyway?
Rather than posing inquisitive questions about the baby’s state of health, it may be enough just to ask how the parents are doing. Even if it is difficult to feel your way into the situation, you can always listen.
Everyone is different: some will need rest and privacy, others will want to be distracted. If you are unsure how you can help, just gently ask.
How life continues after the hospital depends very much on the baby’s state of health and possible impairments. In many cases, premature infants are checked more often and over a longer period of time. This is because, for example, learning difficulties only become apparent later.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to today’s medical advances, many premature babies develop into bright, healthy children who don’t even notice their tough start in life. And over time, their parents’ worry lines often give way to laughter lines.
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