What to say and what not to say to parents of a preemie/NICU baby

What to say and what not to say to parents of a preemie/NICU baby








Today, we have a guest post from Shari R. Shari and her husband welcomed their son a little earlier than expected. Being the parents of a preemie comes with special challenges that not every parent faces. Here is some insight into her journey!

Mr. C came into our world at 29 weeks, about 2 ½ months early due to Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. Preeclampsia is when a woman’s blood pressure becomes dangerously high during the later stages of pregnancy. HELLP syndrome occurs frequently along side Preeclampsia, where liver complications and low blood platelet counts can threaten the lives of both mother and baby. The only way to alleviate these conditions is to deliver the baby immediately, then place the baby in the NICU for care until they are ready to come home.

It was hard not to come home with our baby right away, but we were very lucky that he was only in the NICU for 7 weeks (52 days). By not having too many complications, our baby just needed to grow and get strong to make the trip home.

Just like any other new parents, family members, friends, co-worker, and even strangers feel the need to share. So far in our experience, people have said many interesting things to my husband and I about our preemie. Here is what to say and what not to say to parents like us:

1. Do not tell us about your hair dresser’s friend’s baby who almost died in the NICU; their baby that went home on a heart monitor; or their baby is still terribly sick from being born early.  We are absolutely terrified of what is going to happen to our baby. We don’t need to hear stories that compound our fears. Please tell us about your friend’s preemie baby that is perfectly healthy who is going to Harvard next year. That’s pure gold.

2. Don’t be so sure of yourself when you ask: “Your baby is going home when he’s 5 pounds, right?” Um, no. There are many hurdles a preemie needs to jump before he/she can come home. Some do it faster than others.

3. Don’t keep asking, “When is baby coming home?” Again, each baby develops differently. With all the hurdles preemies need to jump, parents might not find out when baby is coming home until a few days before and then it might not even happen. We found out on Thursday that baby was coming home on Sunday! So stop asking when he’s coming home. We don’t know. If we did know, you would know. Actually, the whole world would know! What you should say is, “I hope baby comes home soon!” and then come visit the baby when he’s home, bring Portillo’s beef sandwiches and fold baby laundry.

4. When you come to see the baby, don’t say in surprise, “He looks so healthy!” Why is this so shocking to you? Are you expecting a shriveled up raisin in a onesie? Tell the parents the baby is beautiful. Bring some beef sandwiches, too.

5.  If we are out with our preemie and you ask how old he is, don’t be shocked when I say 6 months. Yes, he doesn’t look like it. He looks more like a 4 month old.  You asked how old he is. Don’t crinkle your nose like something is wrong with him and say, “He’s so small.” Just nod and tell me how cute he is. We can’t get enough of that.

6. Don’t ask why my baby isn’t wearing glasses. I should say, don’t assume that all preemies will need glasses. My boy’s eyes were examined many times during his stay in the NICU. His eyes checked out fine. Although, if he is lucky enough to inherit my eyes, he might need glasses when he turns 10 years old, like I did!

7. Please don’t ask me if my preemie will be held back in school. Preemie’s most likely will catch up developmentally by the age of 2, if not sooner. Even though my son is 8 months old, he is at the developmental age of a 6 month old. That is hardly the difference to hold a child back from school.

Again, just like any new parents, we are nervous and scared about our brand new baby. When you are a parent of a preemie in the NICU, multiply those feelings by ten. It can be day to day with these little ones. So, next time you meet a parent of a preemie, be sensitive and compassionate. Not everything that you’ve heard in the past applies to all preemies. And every preemie and their parents have their own special road to travel down.

Anyway, We don’t have the time. We are on our way to the hospital to see our sweet tiny bundle that we can’t wait to take home!

Mr. C is now 8 months old and doing fabulously well!

(This list was written from my perspective as preemie parent while understanding that each parent’s experience is different. Please share your story!)


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  • I couldn't agree more with your attitude about having a baby in the NICU. We actually found out only ONE DAY BEFORE our baby was coming home! Strangely, though, in some ways, I was very thankful for our 5-weeks in the NICU. In fact, I blogged about it: http://somispeaks.com/2011/01/13/lessons/.

  • Thanks Nilsa! I agree. I loved what we learned in the NICU. I was very happy to bring home a "trained" baby. We kept up his feeding and changing schedule as long as we could after he came home!

  • How about "Well he just wanted to come out and meet you!" No, he didn't. I had a placental abruption and they had to take him out to save both our lives. There was no want in there, from anyone involved.

  • In reply to Cat804:

    Cat, that is so true! I think I could have waited 11 more weeks to meet him when he is fully cooked! Thanks for the post!

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    I could not agree with you more. My son was born two months early as well and although he had asthma when he was little; he has controlled it himself as a healthy 7yo. He knows what his triggers are and he consciously stays away from them. He has not made a trip to a dr or hospital for anything other than a common cold and any other childhood ailments that a normal 7yo would have.

    Good luck to the future. Stay strong and soon you will look back on this as a speed bump in the road to a beautiful and filling life.

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    I totally agree. My lil one came at 32 weeks because he was not getting the nutrients he needed was only 3 lbs which was small for his gestational age. I kept getting why isnt he doing things the normal way like going straight to the breast without a sheild. I know people want to help with their success stories but sometimes they say things that make you worry more about what you will have to handle. My boy is now a thriving 5 month old and growing stronger :)

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