Published April 2012, next review April 2015

Looking after yourself while your premature baby is in hospital

Looking after yourself FAQs

When your baby is born prematurely it can be extremely stressful, especially if she is unwell. Every parent copes differently, but many find it helpful to talk about their feelings.

Isn’t it wrong to think about ‘me time’ when my premature baby is so unwell?

No. Everybody needs to have their basic needs met – such as healthy food, clean clothes, enough sleep and some time to relax – in order to function effectively.

If you have a premature baby, your needs will be even greater than usual, as you will be feeling especially vulnerable and yet will have to cope with unusually high levels of stress, on many different levels. Even spending your days away from home at the baby unit can take its toll, let alone the emotional drain if your baby is unwell.

If you can take even a little time to look after yourself during these difficult times, you will find it easier to cope. If you reach a point of total exhaustion or become ill, you may not be able to get to the unit at all. So, from every angle, it makes sense to pace yourself.

Read some tips from mums who have had premature babies here.

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People keep telling me I’m doing really well, but I don’t feel I’m coping at all. Should I seek help?

It’s hard to say. On the one hand, anybody coping with the challenges of a premature baby is going to feel wobbly at times or lack confidence that they can cope. On the other hand, if you feel that you are on the brink of collapse and everyone around you is insisting that you are doing fine, perhaps they are not really hearing what you are trying to tell them.

If you feel you are in a crisis, there is nothing to lose by talking to someone in your healthcare team about where to get help, or seeking psychological and/or medical treatment to help you cope.

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I’ve been fearful ever since our baby was born prematurely, but my partner just says everything will be OK. Doesn’t he get how serious this is?

Different people deal with things in different ways. Many couples are successful precisely because of this difference – for example, if one partner is a realist who veers towards pessimism while the other is an optimist who sometimes avoids a harsh reality. These two different ways of seeing the world can complement each other very well within a relationship. The differences can also lead to misunderstandings, with one partner thinking: ‘Don’t they care?’ while the other thinks: ‘Can’t they lighten up and try to think more positively?’.

In this situation it is important to try to see things from the other person’s perspective and accept that just because they view the issues differently from you, this does not mean that they are not trying their best. Try discussing your differences openly, and agreeing to differ while taking into account the way the other person feels.

Read more about what the father may be experiencing here.

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My baby has been diagnosed with a lifelong condition, and now I feel isolated from the premature mums as well as the term mums. What can I do?

If your child is undergoing medical investigation or has been given a diagnosis, you may feel isolated from other parents. This will be especially hard if you have created a bond with parents of other babies who do not have problems. If you feel that your experience has become very different from theirs, and you would like to share your thoughts and feelings with someone who understands, try contacting some of the disability or condition-specific organisations detailed in our contacts section, such as Contact a Family.

Read more about coping with finding out about a long term health problem or disability here.

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I’ve never been the sort of person to wear my heart on my sleeve. Why do people keep telling me I have to talk about how I’m feeling?

Psychological support (also known as talking therapy) forms a central part of the response to conditions such as depression in this country. Talking things through, whether with a friend or family member or a professional, can give you a fresh perspective on your situation, and talking to a good listener, or to someone who has been through a similar experience, will help you feel that you are not alone. Bottling things up can be very hard work, and the distress may build up and lead to problems in the longer term. Although it is a cliché, there is some truth in the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved.

This doesn’t mean that you have to share your feelings with everyone you meet, and you can still retain your privacy and dignity, but if you can find someone who you feel you could safely open up to, you will probably be better able to cope in the longer term.

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Call our midwives

Remember: Tommy’s midwives are ready to answer your questions, no matter how trivial you think they might be. They are trained in bereavement counselling and in talking about problems such as prematurity. Call them on 0800 0147 800.


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The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.


Sources

East London NHS Institute of Psychotrauma (accessed Sept 2011) How to make sense of the traumatic experience, http://psychotrauma.eastlondon.nhs.uk/post_traumatic_stress_disorder/how_to_make_sense_of_the_traumatic_experience.asp

NHS Choices (accessed Sept 2011) Health A-Z, Stress, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stress/Pages/Prevention.aspx

NICE (2009) Depression: Treatment and management of depression in adults, including adults with a chronic physical health problem, Clinical guidelines 90 and 91, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

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