Daniella Doon-Joseph, a clinical supervisor & case manager with ieso Digital Healthcare, shares her expert tips on how to take care of yourself after giving birth prematurely
This piece is in partnership with ieso Digital Healthcare
Experiencing a premature birth can be a very anxious time, so it’s normal to feel scared, worried, angry or numb when your baby is born prematurely, so here are six things you can do for you.
Premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and for every 13 babies (i.e., about eight out of 100 babies), one baby will be born prematurely. Being aware of the numbers and the possibility is one thing, but there’s only so much that can really prepare you for when it happens, and it can be a stressful time for you and your family.
Whether your early birth was planned with your midwife and medical team or unexpected, or whether you and your baby need to stay in hospital a bit longer than you had hoped, know that your healthcare team is there to support you and your baby every step of the way.
Talk about how you are feeling
It can be tough to think clearly when you feel anxious, overwhelmed or scared, so opening up to a partner and sharing how you’re both feeling can help. Dads may also feel scared, often helpless and can therefore bottle up their own feelings while trying to be ‘the strong one’. Your loved ones will also be concerned and waiting for updates – do consider nominating a family member or close friend who can share updates on your behalf so that you don’t feel inundated with messages and emails.
Make time to talk about your feelings together with your partner, lean on your loved one’s shoulders when it all feels too heavy, and give yourself space when you need to.
It can also be very helpful to write down any questions and concerns to pass to your medical team, so keep a notebook to hand (or type in your phone notes) so you can easily jot these down.
Use your breath to calm your mind
When we feel anxious, our breathing becomes quicker and shallower, and we can experience racing thoughts. Taking more gentle, regular, even breaths can help you to feel more grounded and connected to the present moment. Try breathing in gently through your nose – counting to three, and then breathing out gently through your mouth – counting to three. Or bring your attention to one of your hands and stretch your fingers out a bit so there’s space between your fingers and trace each finger, breathing in gently through your nose – counting to three as you trace up your thumb and then breathing out gently through your mouth – counting to three as you trace down your thumb, repeating for each finger. If you are able to touch and hold your baby, you can hold one of their hands gently and trace the outline of their thumb and fingers taking gentle, even breaths.
Choose to stay focused on the now
When we worry and get tangled in our thoughts and feelings, it takes us away from experiencing and being fully present in this moment. In the quiet moments when you are sitting with your baby or taking some time on your own, take some measured breaths and connect to the present moment using your senses – notice what you can see, feel, hear, smell or taste. If you are visiting your baby, take a moment to pause and really pay attention to their toes or their hair. If you are able to do skin-to-skin with your baby, focus on what you can feel – the weight of your baby on you, the temperature of their skin, the feel of their skin, the warmth and love radiating from you, or take a walk outside and silently acknowledge what you can see, feel, hear and smell.
Be kind to your mind
Our thoughts are often automatic, non-conscious and habitual – we don’t actively choose them, they just show up, they affect how we feel and how we feel affects how we think. When faced with uncertainty, we can have thoughts of “what if …” worse-case scenarios or self-blame (e.g., "I must have done something wrong. It’s all my fault”. It’s quite easy to judge and criticise ourselves when we are having a difficult time. Extend the same kindness to yourself as you would to someone you cared about – take a breath, acknowledge that this is really difficult right now and ask yourself “What would I tell someone I cared about if they were in this situation? How would I treat them? How would I speak to them?”.
Take care of yourself
Whether your baby is in hospital or back at home, be sure to make some time for yourself. Many new parents struggle to prioritise themselves – it’s important to remember that like your baby, you need rest, nutrition, to feel emotionally connected to others, to feel supported and to be cared for. You are still healing physically and having a premature birth can take a toll on your emotional wellbeing. One question to ask yourself is “How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” – depending on the particular moment this could mean doing some breathing exercises, hugging your partner, taking a walk, speaking kindly to yourself, taking a warm bath or shower, crying, listening to music or just acknowledging out loud that you are human and experiencing a difficult time. If you choose to breast feed and are expressing for your baby, try to find a calm quiet space.
Connect to what’s important to you in this moment
During this time, it can feel quite lonely and as if the world is spinning for everyone else, but for you time stands still. It is tough to sit with all these really difficult feelings and thoughts and they can take us away from what’s really important to us. When you’re with your baby, ask yourself “What is important to me in this moment?” and have a think about what’s the smallest simplest easiest action you could take that would help you focus on what’s important to you. This may be singing a song to your baby, lightly tracing the shape of their feet, reading a story to them or just radiating love and affection to them. When you’re with your partner, it could be a warm embrace or acknowledging how difficult it is in this moment. And in those moments when you are on your own, thinking about what’s important to you and taking steps to connect to that.
About ieso Digital Healthcare: ieso Digital Healthcare has treated over 86,000 NHS patients for common mental health problems like depression and anxiety. They provide text and video based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for free on the NHS in many areas of the UK. ieso's online mood and symptom checker How Are Things? is available on Boots Health Hub under the Mental Health tab.