I’ve also learned that strength is not dependent on one’s size. The toughest person I’ve ever known fit in the palm of my hand.
~Kristina Mulligan, One in a Mulligan
Being a preemie parent does not end when the NICU doors swing closed behind you after discharge. Being a preemie parent doesn’t stop when your child’s due date passes, nor when they turn two and adjusted age is no longer relevant. Parenting a preemie is for the long-term and, in so many ways, the journey never ends.
Prior to becoming a parent, and even long before my struggle with infertility, I had so many notions about what I would be like as a mother. My dream of motherhood began when I received my first doll and I felt that I always just knew what my parenting style would be. I thought that I was so aware of the type of person that I was and would become, and then my son was born at 28 weeks. What is so fascinating about people is that two individuals could share an experience and, while no situation is identical and neither are the persons involved, it will shape them in completely different ways.
Prematurity is something that can only be completely understood by those who experience it firsthand. I’ve felt the gaping hole in my heart each time I left the hospital without my child. I’ve grieved losses, even though our family was one of the lucky ones. I’ve wept over grams gained and lost, and milliliters of painstakingly pumped breastmilk spilled. I was jolted from a life of comfort into one that was so uncertain and traumatic, yet I survived. And I’ve had to quickly turn from quiet and timid to an advocate for someone who doesn’t have a voice.
Just as giving birth to and caring for a preemie is a rollercoaster, so is the evolution of the preemie parent. There are ebbs and flows from the time the baby is born, to discharge, to their first birthday, and beyond. The shift from survival mode to every day life was the most difficult, and I’m still working past the traumas almost three years later, but through this transition I’ve become wiser.
My strength has been pushed, pulled, twisted, and put through the elements, but I made it through. I’m braver than I ever thought I could be.
I’ve also learned that strength is not dependent on one’s size. The toughest person I’ve ever known fit in the palm of my hand.
I’ve lost relationships as I learned the influence of those close to me on my personal mental health and, in turn, the wellbeing of my family.
I have a new respect for my body and what I put on it, in it, and around my home.
I’ve discovered that all messes can be cleaned up, and that life is more fun with a little chaos involved.
I’ve learned that every cause, no matter how small, is worth fighting for. And I found mine.
With small beginnings comes appreciation for what the typical parent believes are little things – each gram gained, every single breath taken, even every dirty diaper. After all that we’ve been through as a family, it’s easy to only focus on the negative, but over time I’ve learned to look at our experience as a gift, not as a punishment. Parenting a preemie alters you forever and I’m far from the mother that I thought I would be, but I choose to believe I’ve been changed for the better. I’ve changed into who I needed to become.
September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month. This month is designed to honor families who have experienced the NICU and celebrate the professionals who care for them. This month is special to me, because I have two miracle babies that spent 55 and 65 days in the NICU. While I feel that every month with my children is a celebration of how amazing the care received from the NICU can be, this month I want to do a little bit more to raise awareness. If you would like to as well, here are 4 ways you can spread the NICU love.
Tell Your NICU Story
If you have a NICU baby in your life, use this month as a reason to tell the story in person, or online. One of the most prevalent feelings reported by NICU parents is that of loneliness. Hearing another’s NICU tale can really help combat these feelings. Sharing can certainly help someone else, and it might just provide a little healing for you too.
Spread the Word
Take to social media to spread the word about NICU Awareness Month and organizations that are making a difference like Project Sweet Peas. Project Sweet Peas is a national non-profit organization coordinated by volunteers, that provides support to families of premature or sick infants and to those who have been affected by pregnancy and infant loss. They established NICU Awareness Month in 2014.
Make a Donation
So many of the organizations that help NICU families are non-profits. A great way to celebrate NICU Awareness Month is by making a financial donation to these organizations. I suggest the Preemie Parent Alliance, a network of organizations offering support to families of premature infants. YOu can make a donation through their website here.
If your baby was in the NICU for 1 day or 100 days, you know how difficult that experience can be. Receiving a small gift or a book to read to your baby while in the NICU can really brighten your day. Consider collecting funds from friends, family, and colleagues, to buy children’s books or personal care products (think dry shampoo, chapstick, snacks, and hand sanitizer) to give to current NICU families.
I hope you will join me in celebrating all NICU babies, their families, and the amazing health professionals that care for them this September.
Regardless of how you ultimately choose to feed your baby, if your baby is born early you will probably be encouraged to start pumping breast milk right away. Preemies need more calories and nutrients to help them grow quickly. In addition to providing nourishment, breast milk can also help reduce the risk of NEC, build immunity, and prevent infection. Few preemies are able to feed from the breast or a bottle right away. Therefore, expressing your breast milk and providing it to the NICU in both it’s fresh and frozen form is an important part of your child’s medical care. But, it is not easy. Pumping is a labor of love and requires a great deal of commitment and time. I am not a medical expert, but I did pump exclusively for my preemie twins for 15 months. Here are a few of my tips and favorite products to help make things easier.
Start pumping as soon as possible after your baby’s birth
When I arrived in my hospital room post c-section, there was a breast pump and a lactation consultant waiting for me. I started pumping right away. It took several days for my milk to come in, but pumping early and often was vital for establishing supply. Every single drop was taken to my babies in the NICU.
Establish and maintain a pumping schedule
In the beginning, you will need to pump at least every 2-3 hours around the clock. It is hard to set an alarm and wake up in the middle of the night to pump, but a schedule that mimics the newborn feeding pattern will help to maintain and grow your supply with your preemie. As your baby grows and needs to eat less frequently, your pumping frequency will change as well.
A lactation consultant and your baby’s medical care team are great resources. They can provide you with any specific guidelines you need to follow when expressing and storing your breast milk. Also, make sure to discuss with them how you intend to feed your baby post hospital, so they can prepare and support you in that decision. Lactation consultants are not only available during a hospital stay, you can contact them at any time. They can also help you to identify the signs and symptoms of plugged milk ducts and mastitis, both of which are quite painful and can hurt your supply.
Accept the difficulty
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Pumping is hard! It can certainly feel like all you have time to do in a day is eat and pump. And there may be times during this journey when that is true! But if pumping for your baby is what you want or need to do, it can be rewarding and successful.
Hands-free Pumping Bra- If you are going to be spending any amount of time pumping breast milk for your preemie, a hands-free pumping bra is a must. Every Momma can benefit from multitasking while pumping.
Hospital Grade Pump- A powerful breast pump and a lactation consultant will set you on the road to success. And remember, you don’t need to buy a hospital grade pump. You can rent a pump for a monthly fee, which may be covered by health insurance.
Car Adapter- At some point, you will want to leave the house. Being able to pump on the go can provide you with some much-deserved freedom.
Insulated Bag- An insulated cooler bag is necessary for transporting pumped and frozen milk to and from the hospital.
Breastmilk Storage Bags- Most hospitals will provide specific storage containers for breast milk while your baby is admitted. But once home, you will need something to keep milk in until you are ready to use it. Some women prefer a storage bag because they take up less space and are less expensive than storing in a bottle. Remember to label for future reference.
Convenient Pump Cleaning- Keeping your pump parts clean is important especially when you are pumping for a preemie. If you are making trips back and forth to the NICU, you might not always have access to soap and water. Cleaning wipes formulated especially to clean pump parts are great in a pinch. Sterilization bags that go right in the microwave and are quick and easy to use.
Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you use the link to purchase the item.
*this is not an endorsement of any product, just what worked for me
"When I discovered the need, it became my passion. I began to research and design a line of preemie clothing that would genuinely address their unique requirements and sizing."
~Cressie Baerg, Preemie Store
As I sit and write this article for our guest blog post for Ali the founder of Me Two Books, I am struck with the realization that I have been making preemie clothing longer than some of the mother’s that might be reading this blog post have been alive! Some would feel it is time to retire, but when you are doing something you love, why quit?! The question then is asked, "How did you get started making preemie clothing?" "Did you have a preemie?” No, I didn’t have a preemie. Actually, someone I knew in the church I was attending, had a preemie baby, and nobody was able to find any suitable or affordable clothing for it. I told them, "I can make preemie clothes!" You see, I had sewn all my life, from my own clothes to clothing for my 3 children. When I discovered the need, it became my passion. I began to research and design a line of preemie clothing that would genuinely address their unique requirements and sizing.
Of course, I don't personally sew everything we manufacture today! We've far outgrown what I can produce alone. We have a team of great people that manufacture our preemie clothes right here in the USA. We offer our Perfectly Preemie line in 3 sizes - starting at just 1-2.5 pounds. We make many of our items to be as NICU-Friendly as possible, with open shoulders, quick velcro closures providing easy dressing. We also offer fun dresses and playsuits plus we are hoping to add some great outerwear options this next winter, as well as some more fun ideas.
Last fall we acquired the Preemie Store and now have combined our great Perfectly Preemie line to the over 36+ brands carried on the Preemie Store. We want parents to be able to find anything they might need for their little miracles in one place.
Things have changed in so many ways over the 26+ years we have been working with preemie families. The biggest advance has been the internet and the ability to have an online store that is open to parents 24/7. This has been very nice for preemie parents who spend most of their time in the NICU not allowing them time shop at a physical store from 9-5. Most brick and mortar stores carry very little preemie clothing anyway, because preemies are still a small percentage of all live births.
I also now have the privilege of working alongside my daughter, Melissa who was in elementary school when I started. She takes care of all the order fulfillment, customer service, and so much more. It is a real joy to know the stores are in such good hands with someone who has been with me along this beautiful journey as long as I have. She is planning to take over whenever I am ready to retire, the problem is I have no intent at this time! You see I just love what I do. Along with Melissa, my wonderful husband Kevin helps out with all the bookkeeping, and marketing strategy.
We are a small business with a great big heart for preemie families. The best part is hearing back from parents and families with pictures and stories of how having such cute, and easy to use preemie clothing has made a difficult situation so much better!
Check out all the great things offered at Preemie Store today, www.preemiestore.com.
How a Mama chooses to feed her baby is often a polarizing topic. But this is a judgment-free zone. And because August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I would like to share my experience with exclusive pumping. I hope it makes you giggle and you can appreciate another perspective on breastfeeding.
When a friend or family member has a new baby, it is customary to send a gift. Typical baby gifts like clothes and toys are not things that can be utilized right away by a preterm baby. Here are 5 thoughtful gifts that are perfect for a preemie and all are under $25!
Even though you were born 12 weeks early, I was waiting for you. I had been waiting for you for years.