Taking your premature baby home: your feelings
You've probably been dreaming of this day for weeks or even months. You might have worried that it would never happen. Yet the day finally arrives - your premature baby is ready to go home.
It's normal to have confused feelings.
There's a lot to look forward to - even simple things like having the privacy to stay in your pyjamas all day if you want to. But many parents also feel nervous about caring for their premature baby on their own for the first time, without the support of hospital staff.
Before your premature baby goes home
It might help to know that the hospital won't discharge your premature baby until staff are confident that both you and your baby are ready.
This usually means that your baby no longer needs the hospital's specialist equipment and medical care. For example, this might be when she's steadily gaining weight and can breastfeed or bottle-feed at all feeds, has no breathing problems and can keep her body temperature steady in an open cot.
This might happen a few weeks before your baby's expected birth date. It might take longer if your baby has had surgery or help with breathing.
In the weeks before your baby is ready to come home, the hospital staff will help you to take over much of your baby's care - for example, feeding, nappy changing, dressing and bathing. If your baby is still on oxygen, you'll also be shown how to use the equipment.
Many hospitals have private rooms where parents can spend time with their babies before taking them home. This lets you be on your own with your baby, care for him and adjust to his sounds in the privacy of your own room. You might be able to take your baby for a walk in a pram, within the hospital, to get used to being independent of the hospital staff.
The hospital will give you a plan for follow-up medical appointments with neonatologists from the hospital or other specialists. Or you can choose to see a paediatrician or other specialists privately for follow-up checks.
You'll also be regularly cared for by a child and family health nurse or other community health professional who specialises in babies and families.
The prematurity journey doesn't end with your baby's homecoming. Some parents adjust quickly to their baby being home and others take longer. It's a good idea to have a list of people who can help you during this transition time and the early months at home.
Getting ready for your premature baby to go home: tips
Your premature baby's homecoming is more likely to go smoothly if you're prepared. Here are some ideas about getting ready from parents of premature babies.
- Get the house ready. The one constant for your baby is you, and you want to be together as much as possible. You don't want to be trying to put furniture together while looking after your baby.
- Prepare meals in advance and freeze them. If you've got some healthy meals ready to go, that's one daily chore you can tick off the list.
- Make sure your baby's car seat is properly installed. If your baby has any special requirements, an occupational therapist or another member of the hospital staff can help you. You can also ask hospital staff to check that your baby is stable in the car seat before you leave.
- Accept help. If friends and family offer to help with cooking, looking after older children, gardening or shopping, say 'Yes, please!'
- Ask the hospital staff any last-minute questions and make sure you know how to use any medical equipment you're taking with you. Make sure you've got all the contact details for the follow-up appointments. It's also helpful to get a number for a contact person at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in case you need to ask anything.
- Get familiar with safe sleeping positions for your baby. Positions and bedding for home might be different from those that your baby needed in the NICU.
- Find out about playgroups. You might like to go to a playgroup for parents of premature babies in your area, as well as the usual parent groups. Your child and family health nurse can tell you about local options.
- Collect contact details for the parents you've got to know at the hospital and want to keep in touch with. Many parents find that they stay friends with parents they met in the NICU.
- Warn family and friends that premature babies might need to be protected from too much handling and too many new people to start with. This helps to prevent infections and overstimulation.
- Ask anyone who's ill to stay away. And also ask your immediate family and anyone who'll see your baby regularly if they've had their recommended immunisations.
It's nice to say goodbye to the hospital staff who've supported and cared for you and your baby over the previous weeks and months. You can do this in person or by writing a card or a letter. Not all staff will be working on the day your baby goes home, so you might need to say goodbye a few days before.
Discharge day for your premature baby
It's a good idea to try to keep the day you take your premature baby home as quiet and gentle as possible. This will help your baby feel relaxed and calm and cope with all the changes - like travelling in a car and going outside.
The best way to do this is to be well prepared. Planning the day around your baby's feeding schedule will help. Also, if you put your baby's going-home clothes on after her last hospital bath, you won't need to wake your baby to get her dressed.
It's a good idea to take your baby home to just your immediate family - you, your partner and your other children. This way you can all get used to each other.
Some parents tell family and friends that they'd like no visits for a couple of days after their baby gets home. Others are keen to celebrate, but it's wise to keep celebrations to just a few visitors at your home.