In November 2016 I turned up at the hospital for a 30 week scan. Within minutes I was whisked away for an emergency c-section. I was completely unprepared! I had no overnight bag, no clothes for baby, the nursery hadn’t been started and my house hadn’t been baby proofed yet!

Premature baby in an incubator. Photography credit: Hush Naidoo
Premature baby in an incubator. Photography credit: Hush Naidoo

My husband left the hospital late at night the day our son was born and returned the next day with an overnight bag that I had started to prepare the week before. Baby clothes weren’t necessary at this point as our little boy was in an incubator and doctors needed regular access to his tiny body. The nursery got left until a few weeks before our sons discharge and my husband had plenty of time to baby proof the house whilst I was in hospital, well I couldn’t let him sit around not doing anything!

We found friends and family wanted to help but weren’t sure how.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Send a text asking how they are.

Don’t expect a reply though, preemie parents aren’t being rude they are getting regular updates from doctors and nurses. They are constantly monitoring their little ones progress or lack of it. Mum is possibly expressing milk (every few hours day and night) and trying to maintain life at home. Only call if you are a close family member or friend and leave a message if they don’t answer.

Sending a text. Photography credit: Priscilla Du Preez
Sending a text. Photography credit: Priscilla Du Preez

Be prepared to hear a lot of jargon!

Parents quickly pick up the hospital lingo and they don’t think about translating it for friends and family initially. Do a quick google search of the terms used. If you’re really unsure then mention that you don’t know what CPAP, NG tube or a PIC line is.

A quick meal

If you are going to visit them at home you could make a meal that just needs to be heated up later. See the blog from Confident Cooking for some ideas. Don’t cook? Buy a pizza or something that is quick and easy.

Nipping to the shop

If you are nipping to the shop you could see if there is anything they need. I am not talking the weekly shop here but it is easy to forget the daily essentials like milk in such a distracting time.

Looking after other children

If they have other children could you offer to do the school/childminder drop off or pick up? Or could you look after any siblings for a day? Any help is greatly appreciated and the kids will love to have a bit of fun for a few hours that their parents can’t currently provide much of.

If you want to go and do a hospital visit check that you are wanted!

Not to be rude but if you are not immediate family then the parents are feeling very emotional and vulnerable and may not want to be on display to others in this way except with their very nearest and dearest. If you are unsure then wait for an invite. The same goes for when they come home, just because they have been discharged does not mean the baby is well.

Hospital room. Photography credit: Martha Dominguez De Gouveia
Hospital room. Photography credit: Martha Dominguez De Gouveia

Hospital visits!

The rules are strict for a reason – to protect the poorly babies! You will be asked to wash your hands and sanitise them, repeatedly (dropped your phone on the floor? Been out of the room and returned? Off you go back to the sink!) Outdoor clothing will probably asked to be removed – not that you will want to keep it on, the Neonatal Unit will be hot. Got a sniffle? Don’t even bother turning up, what seems like a minor inconvenience to you can be life threatening to a premature baby, the parents won’t be happy for you to see their child and the staff may tell you outright that you shouldn’t be there.

Offer a lift

If mum is not able to drive yet you could offer a lift to or from the hospital. This would save on public transport or taxi fees or it could give a family member doing this task a break.

Local cafes

If you don’t feel that it is your place to visit you could always look up a coffee shop close to the hospital and see if mum or dad fancy a half an hour break.

Final thought for family and friends

The key is to find non-intrusive ways to help or show support and not to expect anything in return at this time. Preemie parents are likely to be tired, emotional and just going through the motions to get through each day. We had great support from our friends and family and we are really grateful for their love and support through such a difficult time in our life.