Preparing for the birth of a child is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life but when that baby is born prematurely all plans and expectations are thrown out the window.
Premature babies are tiny, fragile and often fighting for their lives in a ward at the other end of the hospital from their mother, who may be very ill herself.
About 8 per cent of babies are born prematurely in New Zealand – before 37 weeks’ gestation – and many face lengthy hospital stays in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) or special care baby unit (SCBU).
Mothers are often discharged long before their baby is due home, so their days are spent travelling back and forth to hospital to visit their baby. The last thing parents want to be doing is racing around shops trying to finish those last-minute preparations. For some families this is even harder as their baby may be in a NICU or SCBU in another town, or they may have other children that still need their attention and care.
This can be a stressful time for families but a small Rotorua-based charitable organisation offers parents of prems around the country wide-ranging support.
“We know and understand first-hand the roller-coaster ride parents go through when they have a premature or sick baby in care. We are here to offer a hope and support through that journey,” Early Buds founder Janelle Baine says.
Parents can order an Early Buds “prem pack”, which includes products and samples for both mother and baby as well as useful information. Early Buds also has an active online forum, where parents seek advice and share their experiences.
Janelle formed Early Buds in 2010 after her son was born 12 weeks premature the previous year.
At 28 weeks’ gestation, Janelle was told that she had pre-eclampsia, which can lead to the life-threatening condition eclampsia, and was hospitalised immediately.
Son Lucas was delivered by emergency C-section and weighed just 1000 grams – the average full-term (40 weeks) baby weighs 3500g.
“His head was only the size of a tennis ball, he was tiny,” says Janelle. “When he arrived he was whipped away to NICU and on day five we got to hold him for the first time.”
After seven weeks in three different hospitals, Janelle and her husband were finally able to take Lucas home.
“We were so over the moon to have him home after spending so long in hospital. I was so alone and scared through my journey, I was away from my home town, away from my family and in fear of my baby’s life at times,” Janelle says.
“Because of my experience I started up Early Buds to give comfort to other parents going through the same thing.”
For many women, like Janelle, the premature birth of their baby comes as a complete shock, however some may get a few days or even weeks’ notice. Included in Early Buds’ many online resources is information on expecting an early arrival and how friends and families can support parents of prems.
The information comes from Early Buds supporters – mothers, family, friends and nurses who have been through similar experiences.
One the most common things they say is to meet the staff and get a tour of the unit your baby will be staying in. There you can ask all the questions you have and prepare yourself as best you can.
Some things Early Buds suggests you can ask are what to expect in the unit, feeding your prem, clothing, what you will need to take and if you will be able to stay at the hospital.
Joining online support groups is highly recommended but parents are advised to avoid Google – it can cause unnecessary fears and stress.
“Women who have been there before you can offer some of the best support and advice,” says Early Buds ambassador Rachael Arthur, whose daughter was born seven weeks early.
Early Buds suggest that if you know your baby is going to come early – rest up now. Travelling back and forth from hospital, expressing round the clock as well as the constant worry about your preemie can take its toll on you.
You will also need the support of your family and close friends, so tell them what to expect. Early Buds has a great section on its website with advice for people supporting parents of prem.
This may all seem daunting but as one of Early Buds’ mums says: “Just remember that lots of us have done it and survived and now have happy, healthy children who are bright, active and intelligent.”
For more information go to http://www.earlybuds.org.nz or https://www.facebook.com/earlybuds
If you would like to help this wonderful organisation, then you can donate on their Givealittle page.,. https://givealittle.co.nz/org/earlybudsnz