Why do we feel guilty when we give birth to a baby prematurely?

When Kaleena Berryman from New Jersey went into labour at 23 weeks, she wracked her brain as where she had gone wrong over the past six months.

Jharid born at 24 weeks

Tommy's guest blog, 26/01/2017, by Kaleena Berryman

One of the hardest things women have to deal with when faced with pregnancy complications is a misplaced sense of guilt.

Many of you who talk to Tommy’s about your experience of early birth say that you’ve struggled with the feeling that you may have done something to cause it.

When Kaleena Berryman from New Jersey went into labour at 23 weeks, she wracked her brain as where she had gone wrong over the past six months.

‘The baby was growing in my womb, so who else could I blame? We were facing preterm labor, and although the plan was to remain on hospital bed rest for the next few weeks, I knew in my soul I wouldn’t make it.’

The truth is that you can do everything right during your pregnancy and still go into early labour, as Kaleena eventually realised.

‘I have never smoked a cigarette a day in my life. I have never used drugs of any kind. My life was not filled with stress. I eat a balanced diet, and I am a fairly active person. During my pregnancy, I did not drink any alcohol. I did not “work too hard” or overly exert myself. I never took more than a few sips of ginger ale. The caffeine and coffee withdrawal was real. I participated in prenatal care. I did not find out I was pregnant “too late” and I followed the doctor’s orders to the letter. I swore by prenatal vitamins.’

Throughout her whole pregnancy, Kaleena had made sure to attend every high-risk appointment and follow all of the recommendations.

Regardless of her efforts, Kaleena went into labour at 23 weeks and Jharid arrived at 24 weeks.

‘Prematurity can happen to anyone. I did everything right, and I still had a preemie at 24 weeks gestation, four years ago. Family and friends came to visit. I saw in their eyes the need to make sense of things, to find the mistake. I guess the lack of a mistake is hard to accept, because it brings us to reality.’

Read our prematurity information here


‘For the majority of us preemie moms, we did not do anything different from every other pregnant mommy. Our baby’s prematurity was not our fault. It just happened.’

Kaleena has shared her story in the hope of reassuring other premature mothers that their child being born preterm is not their fault.

Tommy’s is working hard to find the causes of premature labour so that no parent will have to endure the stress and pressure of early birth.

Professor Andy Shennan, Clinical Director of Tommy’s Preterm Surveillance Clinic, says that in some cases we still don’t know why babies are born too soon. But our knowledge in this area is increasing enormously.

‘Are we finding out the causes? The answer is yes. There are new causes even now that we’ve found out about in the last year due to the recent collective focus on this area. We are being able to help women who ten years ago we wouldn’t have been able to without these initiatives.’

It is important that mothers do not torture themselves over what they could have done differently during pregnancy, as in the majority of cases the answer is nothing.

Kaleena says;

‘Yes, you can do everything “right” and have a preemie. And yes, you can do everything “wrong” and deliver full term. Some things about life we will never understand. As parents, our job is to enjoy our baby for however long we have them. And because they were born early, we have them for a little longer than originally planned.’

Factors such as smoking, drinking and managing your weight can affect your risk of preterm birth. Read our NSH accredited advice on how to tackle these risk.

Who is Professor Andy Shennan and what does he do at our London clinic?

Here is the link to Kaleena’s original blog.

Read more about caring for your preterm baby

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