Celebrate the Birth
Celebrate the birth of their baby as you would if the baby was full term by sending a card, gift, or flowers as you intended. Despite all the worries associated with their early arrival, this baby is very special and very much loved.
Send a card as soon as possible
Don’t wait until the baby comes home to send a card (although you could always send a “welcome home” card then too). If you buy a card, be sensitive and choose one without a picture of a big fat full term baby on it.
Some people worry about sending a congratulations card because they are not sure if the baby will live. However most prem babies do survive, and in the awful circumstances where a baby does not come home, the parents will really treasure those first congratulations cards as it gives life to the memory of their little one.
Good gift ideas
FOR MUM: nice hand cream, as she will be washing them many times a day while expressing and at the hospital; a small photo album so she can carry photos of her baby with her; something to read (not baby-related) while she’s expressing.
FOR BABY: anything you might normally give a full-term baby (as they will still need it when they get home). There is not a lot of room in the hospital nursery for more than a couple of personal items such as soft toys, so don’t be offended if the parents leave your gift at home. If you’d really like to buy a prem-sized outfit, try searching online or if you live in New Zealand, try Pumpkin Patch or The Baby Factory- they sell a small number of 000000 and 00000 sized outfits. Outfits should be extremely easy to get into while attached to a monitor. Don’t buy anything with covered feet as the hospital environment is quite warm and the baby may also need a monitor attached to their foot. Generally speaking, the earlier the baby is born, the longer they stay in hospital. Many prems born very early (30 weeks gestation or less) leave hospital near their due date, and may be the size of a regular newborn by that time.
FOR THE FAMILY: A home-cooked meal will be a lifesaver, but also remember that meals do not have to be homemade! A couple would enjoy a takeout meal from the local Chinese restaurant or pizza place just as much as a homemade casserole. Canned soup, frozen pizza and bagged salad are still food! Too much food is a good problem to have! When you bring a meal, also bring paper products like cups, napkins, plates and bowls. Not having to do dishes is a godsend for parents with limited time at home.
Check before visiting
Don’t rush to visit your friends in hospital the first week after the baby is born without checking that they want visitors first. They may be spending a lot of time in the NICU or special care nursery, where visitors other than parents are not really encouraged. Let them know you are happy to meet up when they have time, even if it’s just for a coffee in the hospital cafe, or after they bring their baby home. Don’t even think about visiting if you are unwell - even a common cold can make a premature baby critically ill, and if your friends catch a cold they will be unable to visit their precious little bundle in hospital.
Stay in touch after the first week
Do keep in touch via phone, text messages or email, or via someone who is closer to them than you, so that they know you are there and thinking of them as the days or weeks go by - and let them know that you don’t always expect a reply. Your friends may not have a lot of time to spend with you while their baby is in hospital, but it can be a lonely and stressful experience and they will really appreciate that you are thinking of them and have not been forgotten about after the first week has passed.
Offer some practical assistance
Having to leave your baby in hospital, expressing milk via a pump every 3 hours, coping with a complete change to your plans for birth - having a premature baby is emotionally and physically exhausting and also very time-consuming, when you can’t just stay home and recover but have to commute to see your baby every day. You can help the family of a new premmie by:
Admire their baby photos. When you have the opportunity, ask if you can see photos of the baby, and offer positive comments about them even if they look strange to you. This means a lot to the parents, who already see and love the strength and beauty of their child despite the tubes and wires.
Don’t forget the baby shower. If you were planning to hold a baby shower for your friend, go ahead with your plans. A good time to hold it would be a week before the baby is due home from hospital.
Families facing loss
In the unfortunate event that a family looses their child, here is some information on how you can support them from Sands Manukau - http://sandsmanukau.co.nz/supporting-others/