Six and half years ago my eldest daughter, “Popette” was born 11 weeks early. Those first few months were an emotional roller-coaster ride for my husband and I. It is a time when you need the love, support and understanding of your family and friends.
To anyone who has a friend who has had a premature baby, these are the things they would want you to know.
- What not to say
Let us say your closest friend has had a premature baby. Please do not respond with “Is she going to make it?”
You need to remember that your friends are scared and extremely worried about their baby. At this time, what your friend needs to hear is your concern and interest in their baby. Focus on how the baby is growing and forget questions about mortality rates.
- Be a shoulder
For a while, your friends’ lives will revolve around visits to the Neonatal ICU. They may not be interested in anything else until they know their child is thriving and can soon come home.
This is an important time for you to be there as a friend. Your friends need you now more than ever. Don’t turn your back on them because they haven’t been in touch with you.
Remember they are going through a stressful time and need the love and support of their families and friends. You don’t need to say something to make them happy. Just being there and listening will be enough.
- They will appreciate any help you can offer them
When you have a baby in the NICU and spending long hours at the hospital each day, the last thing you feel like doing is cooking.
Your friend may be too proud to ask for help, but it’s the little things like preparing a home cooked meal that they don’t have to cook themselves that they will be so grateful for.
Or maybe you could help by:
- Babysitting older siblings so they can have a moment to themselves
- Offering to pickup groceries for them when you do your shopping
- If your friend’s baby has come a few months early, they may not have finalised the baby’s room. Maybe ask if they would like some help.
- Remember they are still new parents
Just because your friends have had a premature baby doesn’t mean they won’t want to show off their precious newborn. Sure you can see photos they have loaded on Facebook, but if you can, go and visit them in hospital. Some NICUs allow one visitor (not just family) to escort one parent into the NICU. If your friend asks if you would like to see their baby, do not be afraid or put off by the NICU. Say yes and be happy to see your friends’ sweet little baby.
- This should be an exciting time for them, but it’s not
If your friends are new, first-time parents, they are probably disappointed not to experience the joys of having their newborn in the room with them and showing her off to family and friends.
It will be hard for them to see other parents being congratulated on their newborns, and deliveries of balloons, teddies and flowers arrive for new mummas when their newborn is lying in a humidicrib in the NICU. Try and make your visit special.
- Don’t compare your full-term baby to your friends’ premmie
“Popette” was a relatively healthy premature baby. While she had delays with crawling, sitting and walking, she was doing all the things other full-term babies were doing by the time she reached two years of age.
Unfortunately, some premature babies may be born with developmental issues or other long-term health problems that takes them that much longer to conquer their milestones.
While it’s ok to be happy about your own child’s milestones, try not to compare your little one (who may have started walking early) with your friend’s premature baby. This doesn’t help your friend whose baby might be only rolling at the same age.
I cannot stress how important your love and support is to your friends through this tough time. I was lucky and had the love and support of my family and close friends, but unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t realise how stressful a time it was for us and didn’t know how to support us.
I hope this guide helps others out there.