Learn more about caring for a premature little one

Premature labour and birth affects many families. In some cases, pre-term labour is planned if the mother develops a new health condition or as an attempt to safely care for the growing baby. At other times, premature labour and birth can be a surprise to all involved. We hear the stories of four amazing parents, who open up about their experiences of having premature babies, offer advice to new parents and celebrate their premature baby milestones.

Demi & Ryan (parents to an ex 29 weeker, Louie)

Demi: Our little boy was born at 29 weeks with no explanation as to why he entered the world early. I went into hospital for reduced movements and was told they’d deliver my baby due to his heart rate dipping. Within a few hours, I’d gone from expecting to go home to being taken to theatre for an emergency C-section. 

Our little boy was born healthy but needed a little assistance with breathing on CPAP. Walking away from the hospital each night without a baby in my arms was the hardest thing for me. I never even thought about breastfeeding but suddenly entered a world of expressing – I was going home and setting alarms for two to three hours’ time to express. With all this happening, I found it hard to take time to myself. There came a point where I spoke to the consultant and explained that I couldn’t carry with the little supply I was getting for the sake of my own mental health.

Once I’d spoken out, I felt so much better. Sometimes you have to remember that although your baby requires special care, they are still your baby and your choices and opinions still count. 

I found it isolating in the NICU unit until I met a group of lovely mums and we pushed each other to take time away from the ward and have lunch. There were days I wouldn’t eat all day as I didn’t want to leave my baby on his own but towards the end of our days in NICU I realised how important it was for me to feel refreshed and charged to battle along for my baby. 

Ryan: It was very daunting have a tiny baby and having all the nurses and doctors around all the time. Changing his first nappy in an incubator was scary, I felt under so much pressure. I felt self-conscious doing kangaroo care with my tiny, delicate baby but I knew it was best for him. Having so many nurses and doctors telling me different things felt overwhelming, especially as a first-time dad. Despite the care being exceptional, it’s a very different environment and you have to adapt and trust your instincts.

Sometimes you have to remember that although your baby requires special care, they are still your baby and your choices and opinions still count. 

Carlene & Steven (parents of an ex 28+3 weeker, Cameron) 

Carlene: Having a premature baby, and especially as my first baby, meant I had to re-evaluate a lot of things I always took for granted when I had envisaged having a baby – such as changing them, clothing them and, for me personally, feeding them. Breastfeeding was something I had always wanted to do and luckily, despite the challenges faced from premature birth, I still managed to have a good supply. I was expressing eight to 10 times a day, labelling my milk, storing it, defrosting it – it soon became part and parcel of my everyday routine. From about 30 weeks, I started putting Cameron to the breast when I was feeding him through the NG tube so he could start to associate feeling full with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a huge undertaking for any new mum but trying to breastfeed a baby who had only just learned to breathe unassisted, let alone learnt to latch, came with its own challenges.

I was introduced to nipple shields by the hospital which massively helped, and he came home at 37 weeks breast and bottle fed. We had to swap to combi-feeding once we were home due to struggles with weight gain, but I am so proud that I managed to do it. It’s such a struggle for them to put weight on so breast, bottle, tube – however they are fed, it’s a huge accomplishment for every ounce they gain as it’s a step closer to the door. 

Jenner & Matt (parents of an ex 32 weeker, Benjamin)

When our little boy was unexpectedly born at 32 weeks, we were thrown into the world of prematurity, and we had no idea what that world entailed. Almost a year down the line, with a little bit of reflection and experience, there are a few things we wish we had known at the time. 

You will get through it – even when you can't imagine that you will. Let your body and your feet carry you, they will take you to where you need to be when your head and heart can't comprehend what's happening. Take the time that you need for yourselves too. There will come a day or time during your NICU experience when you need a break from visiting the hospital – take it. It's the right thing for you and it's the right thing for your baby. 

There are other people out there who have been through and are currently going through the same experience. While everyone's journey is different, those that have experienced NICU can help and want to help you. If and when you're ready, there are some great pages on Instagram which can help support you. Do celebrate and acknowledge each milestone, however big or small. Your baby is achieving incredible things; they are real life superheroes and you all deserve to enjoy those moments! 

Breast, bottle, tube – however they are fed, it’s a huge accomplishment for every ounce they gain as it’s a step closer to the door. 

Laura Young (Mother of an ex 28 weeker, Millie and ex 31 weeker,  Poppy)

I have had two little girls, both born unexpectedly and very premature. Our first was born at 28 weeks and our second at 31 weeks. We had two very different experiences of premature births and NICU. The first was extremely tough as we came very close to losing my eldest daughter. Luckily, she pulled through, and despite having additional needs as a result of her prematurity, is doing extremely well. Our second experience of NICU couldn't have been more different and our youngest had a relatively smooth journey in comparison. 

We found it extremely helpful to keep a diary or journal for both girls. Being able to write everything down really helped to process our thoughts and emotions and it also makes a lovely keepsake to look back on. Speak to your nurses or doctors about how you can care for your baby too – don’t feel like you can't look after them. 

We loved doing the girls' daily cares in NICU such as tube feeding, changing their sats probes, nappy changes and even administering some medications. If your baby has siblings at home, it can be hard to manage your time. Reach out to friends and family for support. It’s important not to put pressure on yourself or to feel guilty about spending too much time at home or in NICU. 

If you find out your child has a disability as a result of their prematurity, don’t panic. It may feel like the end of the world, but it is just the beginning of a new one. There may be lots of information to take in at the start and it can feel very overwhelming, but try to take one day at a time. It will get easier. There is lots of help and support available to families outside of NICU, so don’t feel like you are alone. Reach out on social media and look into local groups to find parents in similar situations. Try not to compare, no two children are the same and they progress at their own pace. Most importantly, remember that premature babies have a funny habit of proving doctors wrong.

At Boots, we are committed to supporting everyone through their journey to becoming parents, especially those who may need a little extra advice and information along the way.

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