You have planned the perfect baby shower. Everything is set. You have the perfect menu. You’ve sent out the perfect invitation and everyone has responded. You have set the date weeks early so that Mom is still feeling good. You even have all the thank you notes addressed and stamped, just waiting for the party.
Then the guest of honor decides to make an appearance.
It happens more often than many imagine. In fact, one in ten babies is born premature. What do you do when your favorite pregnant mom goes into labor early and gives birth to a premature baby? You have gone from celebrating joy to the roller coaster of emotions as a tiny human fights for his or her life.
First of all, take a deep breath. The whole idea of a baby shower is to show support for new parents. When there is a preemie involved, there are lots of ways to help that go above and beyond an afternoon with presents and tea cakes. It’s tough to ask the parents what you can do to help, since they are dealing with the care of their baby. Instead, take a look at what other parents of preemies have asked for and pick something that fits the parents you know.
There have been incredible advances in care for premature babies and more are surviving every year. But the fact is, more than a million premature babies die. Doctors and nurses have a responsibility to tell new parents the odds. So they will be worried. This is not the time to have a party, even if you think it will “take their mind off" their worries. Instead, there are other ways to help.
One of the hardest things about being a preemie parent is standing around with empty arms while your baby is whisked away. This is totally against the natural desire to hold and bond with the baby. There are more and more things that parents can do to support bonding.You can bring the parents bonding circles. The parents wear one of these little circles of soft fabric next to the skin for several hours. Then they can place the fabric in the baby’s isolette. The baby learns to recognize the scent of her parents even if she can’t be held.
Time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, is pretty mush like time spent in any medical center. There is lots of time to wait. You might want to help the new parents learn more about their new normal life with books about how to care for preemie babies. Dr. Sears is a respected expert on infant and child care and has a wonderful book called The Premature Baby Book. In the book, parents can learn what to expect both before and after they leave the hospital. Preemies and The Preemie Primer are also wonderful books that help parents look ahead and prepare for the future. You might want to consider the gift of a small tablet that they can carry easily rather than a stack of books. That way, Mom or Dad can read any books whether they are waiting to see the baby, or just sitting next to their sleeping sweetheart.
It is important that the parents keep a record of their baby’s day-to-day development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a journal that not only gives parents a place to record milestones and setbacks, but also has room to write down questions for the baby’s medical team. The whole book can serve as a keepsake, something to go through with their child later to show their little one just how strong he or she really is.
Chances are, the premature birth surprised the parents. Even if the Mom has packed her birthing bag, she probably only packed a day or two of clothing. Her partner may not have packed anything at all. So offering to run by their home and bring fresh clothing is always welcome. You can always add a novelty T-shirt to lighten the mood. There are a wide range of shirts available such as “I’m a Preemie Mom. What’s Your Superpower?" or another one that celebrates being a “SuPreemie" Mom. Dad doesn’t need to be left out as there are many different styles for him such as “My son/daughter is a NICU Rock Star!" or even “Proud Preemie Dad."
Depending on how the baby is doing, you may want to start thinking about preemie baby clothes. Be sure to talk to the parents, since many preemies have so many monitors that they can’t wear clothing in the hospital. As the baby grows, the hospital may begin to allow preemie onesies. But many parents do use preemie swaddles. Just be sure to get the preemie size, as even newborn swaddles may be so large that the child can become trapped in the fabric. Additionally, most hospitals will require baby hats.
Sometimes, even with the best care, a premature baby doesn’t make it. In those cases, be very gentle with the mother. Unfortunately, the body isn’t always kind, and she may deal with postpartum depression on top of grief. If you have gathered gifts, return them to the givers quietly, with the hope that they may be needed in the future. Offer to help pack up unused items for storage either with the parents, or alone if they aren’t up to the job. But be sensitive to the family’s needs. They may want to leave things untouched for a long time.
Thankfully, more and more premature babies are going home healthy every day. So, on that happy day when the baby comes home, make sure that everything is ready. Many preemies still need special sizes, even if they are strong enough to grow on their own. They have tiny little noses and mouths. So make sure Mom has plenty of Preemie sized baby bottle nipples. You might also want to provide a preemie sized nostril bulb. In addition, preemie babies have a higher risk of SIDS, so consider purchasing an O2 monitor such as Owlet. This little device fits on the baby’s foot and will alert Mom’s phone if the baby’s oxygen level or temperature begins to drop.