Born too soon: 9 things to expect after your preemie has arrived

It’s tough coping with a preterm baby, but it helps to know exactly what you’ll be in for.

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Childbirth is an intense and magical experience, and a hotly-anticipated event in a soon-to-be mummy and daddy’s calendar.

While every parent ― especially the mum ― aims to have a fit pregnancy, give birth at full term (39 to 40 weeks) and leave the hospital with a healthy bundle of joy, sometimes, the reality may fall short of your expectations.

The fact is that one in 10 pregnancies will end in a premature birth. So, there’s always a chance your baby might come sooner than expected.

“The universal definition of premature babies is any baby born before 37 weeks,” notes Associate Professor Zubair Amin, head of the Department of Neonatology at the National University Hospital (NUH). “The earlier they are born, the more vulnerable they are.”

There are many reasons why a baby is born prematurely. Most times, it’s a spontaneous preterm birth which might be due to a mum’s age or health. Other times, doctors themselves decide that baby has to come out earlier because of medical reasons or because it’s a multiple birth.

Sometimes, a birth may be so early ― two or three months in advance ― that not only is baby not physically equipped to survive in the outside world, but parents are also not mentally ready to welcome their little one.

Plenty of important things happen to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy in terms of organ growth, brain development and breathing capabilities.

“When our son arrived suddenly at 36 weeks, my husband and I were not prepared for him,” recalls Jacintha Naidu, 40. “We thought we still had time to do up his nursery, buy a diaper bag and for me to plan my birth with a doula. But everything went out of the window when my water broke out of the blue. It was a complete shock.”

Plenty of important things happen to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy in terms of organ growth, brain development and breathing capabilities. So, when bubba leaves the womb unexpectedly, the weeks following his birth can be very chaotic. Your little one will be subjected to back-to-back medical tests, and as overwhelming as it sounds, you’ll have to make medical decisions on the spot for newborn health issues you know nothing about.

Handling the aftermath of a preterm birth is never easy, since you are almost never prepared for it. However, this is what you can expect to happen after baby arrives and how to cope with the situation.

#1 You’ll be in shock, so accept all the support you can get  

Doctors work hard to prepare parents every step of the way. However, Prof Zubair admits that they might not always have the time to do so, especially if the mother delivered the baby quickly and unexpectedly. “Sometimes, we may not have time to counsel them in detail as we are focused on stabilising the baby first and then updating them,” he points out.

In other cases, they will have quite a bit of time, so they’ll share all the information and visual aids they have to make sure the parents are up to speed on their baby’s condition. This way, they are able to make informed medical decisions moving forward. “It can be very overwhelming, so we make it a point to go back to them and ask if they have any follow-up questions for us.”

Doctors and nurses will become your new BFFs during this time, so work closely with them and trust their medical opinions, because ultimately, they do know what’s best for your baby. Most hospitals, including NUH, also have their own in-house parent support group.

Counselling sessions start from the point of delivery, or even prior to that if you know you’re about to have a premature birth, and it’ll extend all the way until after you leave the hospital. You will experience different hurdles at different points, so make use of every resource you have.

“Counselling before delivery will focus on your baby’s prognosis, what problems to anticipate and how to mitigate them,” explains Prof Zubair. “Later on, the focus will change to baby’s current status and how to transition them to their homes.”