Being pregnant and preparing for the arrival of your little one can be both exciting and scary. There are so many “how tos” for being pregnant these days. Prepare your birth plan, download contraction tracking apps, what to pack in your hospital bag, and the list goes on. So what happens when the baby makes an early arrival and you deliver a premature baby?

Babies can come early for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes the doctor will recommend an early delivery due to any number of health factors or a medical condition might cause labor to start early. A physical trauma such as a fall can also start premature labor. Sometimes, that little one just seems to be in rush to be born for no particular reason at all! So, what can we do as parents to prepare for the unexpected? Well, as we soon will discover as parents, the unexpected is not uncommon!  

Plan Ahead 

The “to do list” that you find online may tell you that at week 38 you should pack your bag for the hospital. Why wait? Week 38 sounds great if the baby shows up on or after your due date, but why not have that bag ready to go closer to week 30 or 32 just to be safe?  

Have your doctor and/or hospital’s phone number saved in your phone.

Tour the hospital or birthing center early on so that you know where to go and what the procedure is upon arrival.

Being prepared can help cut back on the stress and chaos of a sudden early arrival. 

Don’t Panic

Remember that the doctors, midwives, nurses, and doulas (or anyone else) involved in your delivery are there to help. This won’t be their first premature baby delivery. They are prepared to provide you with the safest and most risk free delivery possible. 

Ask questions! If this is your first premature baby (or first baby at all) you should not hesitate to ask as many questions as you need to in order to ensure that you feel informed and prepared for what is going to happen.  

Things to be Prepared for With a Premature Baby

Unfortunately with premature deliveries, there can be some unknowns as far as what complications may arise. Unlike a typical delivery, you will likely find that a team of NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) doctors and nurses will be a part of your birth experience in addition to the OBGYN team (this may vary for non-hospital births). 

You may not be able to hold your baby right away. The NICU team often whisks the baby off to the other side of the room to be sure that there are no health concerns that need immediate intervention. Pending the circumstances, you may not be able to hold your premature baby until you are out of recovery and able to visit the NICU ward in person. If your baby requires oxygen or other medical support, it may only be possible to view the baby through an incubator or other similar device initially.  

Most hospitals do not offer extended stay options for families with a baby in the NICU. In other words, once you are discharged, you might have to go home while your baby remains in the hospital.  Some hospitals offer boarding for a night or two, but depending on how early your little one is born, his or her stay is likely going to be longer than yours. Going home without your baby is HARD.  

How to Cope

If you can’t be at the hospital with your baby, don’t be afraid to call…a lot. Check in, ask questions, advocate for yourself and your newborn.  

Find support groups. Many hospitals have counselors and social workers on site that will check in with the parents of a premature baby, but don’t hesitate to seek out local mom groups, or ask your pediatrician for recommendations for ways to connect with other parents who are going through (or have been through) this type of experience.

Rejoice in the little moments! Baby’s first bath, weight gains, progress made with medical issues, eating, or other initial setbacks are all reasons to smile and be proud of that little person working so hard to grow.  

Congratulate Yourself

The parents of a premature baby are working just as hard as the baby in many ways. New moms are recovering physically and emotionally from childbirth. On top of that, they are faced with the worry and concern of making sure their premature baby is developing and growing as intended. Moms are warriors and can get through all kinds of challenging situations. Be proud of yourself; being a NICU parent is an emotional experience. 

Purchase Carole Kramer Arsenault’s award winning parenting book, Newborn 101, for tips on labor and delivery, newborn tips, and even advice with premature babies. If you find that you need extra physical and emotional support once your baby comes home, reach out to Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny for newborn care (day or overnight) and postpartum support.

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care.