Your friend or family has finally brought their preemie baby home from the NICU, and you’re excited to meet their little miracle, but unsure of how to approach the family altogether.
Don’t worry, as long as you stick to these simple do’s and don’ts written by a preemie mom, visiting a premature baby will be a happy and smooth time for everyone!
Do Listen to the Preemie Parents’ Conditions (and Comply)
Before visiting a premature baby, ask the parents if they are ready to receive visits in their home. And under which terms.
It’s not uncommon that when we take our babies home, the doctors impose a no visit rule until we can complete the first vaccination schemes (which more often than not include at least three shots of the Synagis shot.) The complete process can take up to three months.
We didn’t allow almost any visit from friends or family until my son was around four months old (2 months old adjusted), some of our friends were understanding, and some weren’t.
We knew that we were doing what was best for our son, so we stuck to it!
If your friend says it’s OK to visit their baby, find out if they have any special request for your visit.
Some of the petitions may seem weird but know that they come from a very real place (the NICU), and visiting a premature baby during her first months is much like visiting babies in the NICU: short and strict.
Some parents may ask you to keep your cell phones at the entrance of the house (phones are full of germs), wash your hands for five minutes, visit straight from home, or tie your hair, take a shower just before visiting, or wear a surgical face mask. Whatever it is, by doing as they say you’ll help protect their baby and their peace of mind.
Do Bring Extra Clean Clothes for Interacting with the Preemie Baby
This is especially true if you are visiting a premature baby after being all day outside of your home.
The street is full of germs and contamination, and we preemie parents tend to develop a germ-vision.
By bringing freshly laundered clothes and changing into them as soon as you arrive at the house you are visiting you will show them that you are on their side, and support their every measure to keep their baby safe.
It is even more likely that they will let you hold the baby if you do this since she won’t be directly exposed to dirty clothes.
Do: Wash your Hands as Soon as you Enter
Wash your hands thoroughly.
Make sure you wash the space between your fingers, your palm, and the back of your hand.
You’ll be amazed to know the number of diseases we can avoid by just washing hands. Simple, right?
Even so, many of us neglect this standard practice.
When a baby is in the NICU, the nurses teach us parents about the importance of hand-washing, the correct techniques to do so, the right moment to do it. We wash our hands so frequently that we get rashes most of the time (since the NICU soap is strong.)
It is second nature to us to wash our hands when visiting babies!
Having said all this, once our babies are bigger and stronger, we’ll be a bit laxer about this. After all, germs do help develop the immune system, we just don’t want to expose our miracles before they are ready for this!
Do Keep the Visit Short and Simple
There will be time for the lengthy visits that you may be dreaming about. In the months and years to come, you’ll be able to kiss and smooch the baby to your heart’s content, and stay during weekends, afternoons, and evenings!
But right now, the preemie family may be in need of some alone time. And though seeing you will surely help them, keep your visit under 30 minutes if possible.
Most breastfeeding moms need time adjusting to… well…breastfeeding, but this is especially the case of us preemie moms. We came from pumping our way in the NICU to actually breastfeeding a baby. That transition takes time to get used to.
Additionally, like all new parents, we are most likely to be sleep-deprived. Partly because our babies wake us up all night and partly because of the monitors beeping or ourselves waking up to check that the babies are doing fine.
Keeping a short visit is a long time investment in your relationship with NICU families.
Don’t Go if You’re Not Feeling Well
If your head hurts, your throat is sore or your nose itches, reprogram your visit.
Even if you are feeling well but visited someone who has had the flu within seven days before your visit you may be carrying the virus, so it’s also best to reprogram.
RSV and pulmonary infections are dangerous for preemies.
Ollie had simple flu when he was 12 months old and turned into pneumonia and bronchiolitis in less than 24 hours. We had to rush him to the ER because he wasn’t breathing. He was in the hospital on oxygen for ten days until he recovered. The younger the baby, the higher the risk of infection.
We limited our visits to non-flu visitors until Ollie was well over 8 months. And, we still ask everyone who may be sick to wear a facemask. We don’t overprotect our son, he goes to crowded places and has had the flu several times by now at 24 months. But we still don’t want to risk it by letting someone with the flu hold him without wearing a facemask.
Don’t Hold the Preemie Baby
Unless the parents ask you to hold their baby, don’t press them into it.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities. Just make them feel comfortable by knowing that you are OK just looking at the baby. If they are comfortable with you holding her, they will let you know.
Also, to keep on the safe side, avoid kissing the baby and holding her hands.
Don’t Compare their Preemie to any Other Baby
As preemie parents, the greatest joy in the world comes with sorrow.
We love our baby and wouldn’t change him for anyone else, nor would we want him to be any different. So we try not to compare our baby to anyone else’s. But, sometimes it is inevitable, and we internally cave in.
My son looked like a newborn during his first four months. He didn’t smile until he was eight months old and had to go through weekly Physical Therapy to move his hands and arms. He is healthy, bright, and has no significant delay. But when the children of my friends were smiling, walking, and talking, he wasn’t, and it’s human nature to worry and to compare them.
It gets even worse when people pity my boy or openly compare him to others. It feels as if they are undermining us as if they don’t know or don’t care about our background.
A few months ago a fellow mom who has a son two months younger than Ollie (but bigger and heavier), raved on and on about how small and fragile my Ollie was. She held him without my permission and said that she remembered the times when her son was smaller. She went as far as to congratulate me for being so chill and not overprotecting him. He was evidently so weak (to her eyes.) She seemed to be following an anti-manual for visiting a premature baby.
Needless to say, I despised every second we spent together, and I’ve never seen her again.
Don’t Talk about other Full-Time Pregnancies
Us moms also grieve about the weeks that we should have been heavily pregnant and weren’t.
Sometimes I see other moms complaining about their heavy wombs. Begging for their babies to come early so that they can stop being feeling uncomfortable. I understand that they don’t know what they are saying, but it hurts.
My son was born at 31 weeks, which means that I missed out on nine weeks of pregnancy. Some women dream about their pregnancies their whole lives. They imagine them picture perfect, so we miss what we didn’t have. And in some cases, what we’ll never have.
So it’s better to play it safe and stay clear of that topic.
That’s a Wrap
I’m sure you’ll love visiting a premature baby. Take it one step at a time and be patient with us preemie parents. We do want what’s best for our children, even if sometimes it is hard to express ourselves.
Most of all, you’ll see how powerful and miraculous a person can be, no matter how small!
Have you visited a preemie recently? Are you planning a preemie visit? Or, are you a preemie parent and would like people to know how to plan their visits? Tell us all about it in the comment section!