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What to Know When Your Baby Comes Early

Self-Care Is Critical

February 12, 2015
By Karen Robinson-Renaud, MSW,?RSW - Contributing Writer , OVParent

When most of us get pregnant, we prepare the room and think about names.

We fret about whether we will have a natural birth or forgo being a hero and befriend the anesthesiologist. Few of us plan ahead for a premature delivery and the chaos it can bring.

According to the March of Dimes foundation, one in nine babies is born premature (before 37 weeks) each year in the U.S. As a social worker in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), I am very aware of the impact a premature delivery can have on the whole family. However, when my own baby was born at 26 weeks, l learned firsthand how important self-care was during this difficult time. Below are tips that I used to cope and that I recommend to others.

Article Photos

Sutton at 3 weeks

Rejuvenate in small bits. Depending on how complex your baby's issues are, you may be in for a long haul in the NICU. You need to find simple ways to re-energize so you can continue to attend to your baby and other responsibilities. Take deep breathing breaks, using a short, guided meditation app, 10-20 minute walk around the block or a walk around the main floor of the hospital listening to your favorite music.

Accept support. When your child is in the NICU is not time to try and do it all. Your baby needs a sane parent. If loved ones are offering support, accept it. Make a list of things that would ease the pressure for you and share it with your family. Typical things are food preparation, transportation to and from the hospital, child care, grocery shopping and housekeeping.

Acknowledge your losses. With this pregnancy, you have lost carrying your child to term, holding your baby right after delivery and going home with your baby soon after delivery. Depending on the severity of yours or your child's situation, you may have experienced other losses as well. Taking the time to acknowledge your emotional pain around this experience does not negate what you are grateful for. You have to give yourself the space to feel both the good and the bad of this unexpected experience.

Fact Box

The March of Dimes has an online community to connect parents of premature babies. Find out more at

Build in admin time. Paperwork may be the last thing you want to deal with. However, there are usually forms that have to be completed whether related to your maternity leave, hospital costs or child care for your other children. It will be a weight off your shoulders to tackle a bit of it each day.

Help others. If you have been in the NICU for a few weeks, you may feel ready to reach out to other parents in the unit. Help them and yourself by checking in and sharing the little milestones reached and the frustrating setbacks.

Ban perfectionism. Accept that you will make mistakes. The staff will guide you and keep your baby safe. You will probably feel clumsy the first time you change your baby's diaper or try to put her to the breast. Cut yourself some slack and keep learning and trying new skills to care for your baby.

Journal it out. Sometimes you just don't feel like talking, but you still need to sort through your feelings. Journaling is a great way to process what you are feeling and to capture your family's journey in the NICU.

Listen to your body. It is so easy to push through fatigue and fear and drive yourself into the ground. If your body is quietly telling you to slow down, don't wait until it is screaming at you and you have no choice. Take a break from hospital. I know this is easier said than done.

However, if your baby is stable, take a day off so that you don't burn out.

Talk to a professional. Most NICU's have a social worker who can provide emotional and practical support. Another option is to find out if you or your partners' company has an Employee Assistance Program.

You can get free professional counseling by phone, online or in person through this service. Your family doctor also may be a good resource for connecting you to a therapist.

Sleep when you can. Between expressing breast milk, meeting with hospital staff, getting the baby's room ready and other responsibilities, sleep can feel like a faraway place you never get to travel to.

However, sleep impacts your milk supply and is a buffer for postpartum depression.

So nap at home, or in your parked car or in the parent lounge.

All of this may seem overwhelming. Try incorporating the ones that you feel will make the biggest difference.

Set reminders for yourself so you remember to follow through with your self-care plan throughout the week.

Despite this being a difficult time, using the above tips can make a difference with your ability to cope.



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