Very often, when a baby is born prematurely, Dad – or significant other to mum – is the first person to see baby in the NICU environment, they will either be taken with baby when they leave the labour ward, or they will be asked to go and visit baby as soon as the medical and nursing team have time to speak through the goings-on.
One of the biggest responsibilities you will have is to find out about your baby’s condition, and take that information back to mum and the rest of the family. Even if you don’t take in much information – you won’t, your mind will be all over the place; split between your new child, and your partner who has just gone through the delivery! – The best advice we can give you is to take photos! On your mobile, with a camera – we don’t mind. But is important for mum to be able to see her baby, and get that bonding process well on the way.
Stress effects milk supply, and as breast milk is so important to premature babies, you need to keep your wife or partner as calm as possible. This means finding out answers to questions from the medical team, fending off family members so you can get to know your little mouse, and making sure that mum is fed and watered to keep her strength up, and that milk flowing!
Having a premature baby can put a huge strain on your relationship, but it can also bring you a lot closer together. Make sure you cut each other some slack. You have both been through a “loss” – grieving for the labour and start in life you thought your child was going to have. If you can, treat mum to something! Anything! A voucher for the coffee shop, so you two can spend twenty minutes
away from the NICU and catch up! A blanket so mum can personalise her skin-to-skin time with your little mouse, will help mum feel like she has some control.
It is important to minimise stress levels for mum, as it has been shown in research studies that stressed mums of premature babies can have an impact on their psychomotor development – so your baby’s strength or grace (Basque Research,
2010). This study also showed that if there is an element of insecure bonding between mum and baby, there will be an impact on baby’s mental development.
Take over the household tasks – cooking, cleaning, washing...the list is endless (mum-life IS a full time job!), sort childcare for your other children, so that mum doesn’t have to worry about it.
It’s important that you take care of your mental health too. Sometimes it will feel, as dad, you get pushed out of the picture. But try and take advantage of special skin-to-skin times, or nappy changes. Perhaps offer to stay with baby while mum goes and gets her hair done, or nips home for a hot bath, so she knows her baby will be safe and happy with their dad.
It can be a really difficult time for the whole family, having a premature baby in the NICU can put all kinds of stresses and strains on you and your partner, but have a finish line in sight – you are trying to get this baby home. Be kind to each other, and be kind to yourself.