Supporting my sister and her preemie - Mothering Forums
NICU & Preemie Parenting > Supporting my sister and her preemie
Collinsky's Avatar Collinsky 01:43 PM 01-27-2009
My sister had her baby last night, vaginal birth at ~30 weeks. He is 3 lb 7 oz, and they say he is very strong. I don't have any more details at this time.

I'd like to know how I can best support her in the coming weeks?

And then later on, what might she need from me and others in order to feel supported? I'm not unfamiliar with what postpartum mamas may need, but have no experience with a mama who has a preemie so if there is anything I need to know, please tell me!

One of my concerns is that I have four small children - when will it be safe for them to be around her baby? I can be a lot more practical help to her as far as housework goes when they can come with me. (And please know that I am sensitive as to whether someone is up to having four kids running around or not - I would never assume that someone needed their dishes done more than they needed peace and quiet. I ask.)


buckysprplmonkey's Avatar buckysprplmonkey 07:33 PM 01-27-2009
I'd like to know how I can best support her in the coming weeks?
Lots of love and hugs- you don't have to say anything or try to provide answers/say the right thing. Just be there for her. If you're able, maybe clean her house or help with meals or something. I know that was one of the biggest helps friends and family did for me.

And then later on, what might she need from me and others in order to feel supported? I'm not unfamiliar with what postpartum mamas may need, but have no experience with a mama who has a preemie so if there is anything I need to know, please tell me!
I always say you can't go wrong with really practical help. If you mean once the baby's home, for me that's when the worst was over. It was when he was in the hoapital that I needed help. One of the biggest things ayone did for me once I was home was drive me back and forth from the hospital when I was still recovering from the cesarean and couldn't drive. As for emotional support, I think just letting her know your there and listening is the biggest thing you can do. You don't have to (and really can't if you've never had a preemie) fully understand what she's feeling, and she knows that. But offering your ear to listen and shoulder to cry on is a huge thing.

One of my concerns is that I have four small children - when will it be safe for them to be around her baby? I can be a lot more practical help to her as far as housework goes when they can come with me. (And please know that I am sensitive as to whether someone is up to having four kids running around or not - I would never assume that someone needed their dishes done more than they needed peace and quiet. I ask.)
I think it depends on the baby and the health of your kids. You know your kids and how gentle they'll be with him, but we've had no problems with our older kids (19, 8 and 2) or our nephews (2 and 10 mo.) around him. My son's had no illnesses/lung issues/etc, so I'm comfortable with his cousins and his sisters' friends being around him as long as they aren't sick at all. The first hint of a sniffle from anyone on our end or the visiting end cancels everything though. Even adults with the tiniest symptom aren't allowed near the baby or in my house and we don't plan on putting him in the nursery at church or anything like that until cold and flu season is over.

I think it's great that you're taking the time to ask around about this! You're a good sister!
Amys1st's Avatar Amys1st 10:13 PM 01-28-2009
I think you are a great sister! Does she have other children you can take for a few hours? If you did my dishes, I would love you forever, esp when I was in the nicu.

My SIL (this is her thing) cleaned my bathrooms when I was recovering and brought me trashy mags, licorice, and my makeup to the hospital. I was grateful! She also changed all our sheets and did the laundry. Plus brought me dinners and was our communication to friends and family. My friends called her and my brother to get updates. They also took dd1 for a long time on a Saturday so we could spend extra time in the nicu that day.

Everyone is different what they want and need but the normal everday stuff is wonderful.
Collinsky's Avatar Collinsky 02:25 AM 01-29-2009
Thanks. This is her first baby, so babysitting is out. I'm going to be checking in on their cats though while they're at the hospital.

My sister is on quite a roller coaster of emotions - she's feeling a lot of things and I think is overwhelmed. The baby is doing pretty well, but she still can't hold him much. She does much better emotionally after she gets to hold him. There's just so much that she's dealing with, and the head nurse made her feel incompetent handling her baby (even though she is amazingly gentle and watchful of him - my god, it's her sweet baby, she wouldn't be rough with him for anything on earth!) and that pretty much ruined her day. Her Dh is able to see the baby more than she is because he didn't just give birth and isn't pumping every 3 hours around the clock... she feels guilty, angry, sad, etc - it's just a lot for her to process.

The first day she pumped, she was able to get a fair amount of colostrum from one breast, less from the other... today she wasn't able to get much at all. Is that typical? Also, they told her her milk would probably come in tomorrow (the third day), but I was thinking that it may be a little longer and she's already so afraid that her body is going to let her down. It is VERY important to her that breastfeeding work out, she needs to feel like she can give the baby that. I've let her know that even if her milk doesn't come in tomorrow that it doesn't mean it won't.

Is there any kind of premie support group? I think just getting some of those feelings validated by women who have btdt would be so helpful.

I am not giving her any print out of info on kangaroo care. In my nonmedical opinion I feel like the baby is strong enough to handle it and it would help her a lot, but it is not offered at this hospital (they think the one hour holding once a day is kangaroo care) because she has to do what she has to do, and she has to work with the staff and their policies, and I don't want to add to her feeling that she isn't doing it right if it's not something she is able to fight for. She already feels guilty for not being able to hold her baby, and she feels the loss of that strongly. So I thought I should not even bring it up. Am I making the right call there?
henriksmom's Avatar henriksmom 08:49 PM 01-29-2009
Your sister is really lucky to have you be supportive and that you are sensitive to her needs and emotions. Great to see you here asking for advice.

I had a 29w 6d son. He will be 6 months old in 2 weeks. It will be the toughest time in her life. There is a good book I read about the psychological aspects of premature birh, called Preemie Parents by McDermott-Perez. It is pretty pricey and I read it after the whole NICU experience but it validated my emotions and experiences.

When the NICU becomes your life you can never imagine leaving. Even well meaning friends would ask "when is your son going home?" I would want to scream at them. When he finally went home, after 58 days, I was extremely frightened. He had been my son for 2 months but for the first time he was my responsibility.

My milk took 3 days to come in. I have heard that it can take longer. The doctors were doing rounds, I was hormonal, they decide with me that they would give him formula by 2pm if I did not bring in any milk. I felt like a complete failure: for having my body fail and give birth prematurely; for not being able to have an all natural water birth; an for not being able to nourish my boy with my milk. It came in right before 2pm but stress does not help.

The nurse on duty the night that my son was born was snarky too. I did not know that he was delicate to touch, after all he was my son! It pissed me off but she was doing her job.

I do not recall if others suggested magazines, snacks, gas cards or bus tickets. A coffee card would be nice, even though too much caffiene is bad.

And tell her to sleep (nicely, or course). She will not get it when the baby comes home.
GOPLawyer's Avatar GOPLawyer 02:49 AM 01-30-2009
Couple of ideas...

Would she mind if you did some cleaning for her while she is at the hospital?

Ready made meals/snacks that can just be grabbed and eaten on the go would be fabulous. Make sure she has a big bottle so she can always have water to drink. The NICU tends to be very dry and pumping will take a lot of liquid.

Dr. Sears' Preemie book would be a great gift. This preemie book is good too and I think has a bit more info but I liked Dr. Sears better as it had AP stuff in it.

Don't ask if you can do something for her...just do it. ie...just drop the food off. I'm normally a control freak but while going through this tough time, it was so nice to just have stuff done for me. Having someone ask me, "What can I do?" was sweet but actually just created one more decision for me to make and was just easier to say, "No thanks".

This sticky is a wealth of info.

No matter what she does/says...cut her LOTS of slack. Make sure she hears what an awesome Mama she is and how great she's doing. She needs to know how fabulous it is for her to pump for her baby. Feed her self-confidence as a Mama. She may need to make decisions/push for things in the NICU and it's nice to have encouragement in making those decisions.

That reminds me...does she have this hands-free pumping bra ? If not, get it for her. It makes pumping soooo much easier.

Kudos to you for helping your sister!!
Collinsky's Avatar Collinsky 03:03 AM 01-30-2009
Thanks for the suggestions... right now they are having problems with their landlord (they were late on their rent that was due this week. Go figure. and they are going to be putting their things in storage and living at the Ronald McDonald House until their baby is ready to come home... hopefully they will have found a new place by then. I'm just so upset. It's a side topic since it's not really a preemie/NICU issue... but what horrible timing.

Thanks for all the suggestions, I will definitely look it over when I have more time.
noahs.mom06's Avatar noahs.mom06 03:53 AM 01-30-2009
I don't have a preemie, but I have lived in the NICU w/ DD for 11 weeks now, and have experienced the ups and downs (big downs, for awhile DD was one of the sickest babies here).
ITA with what a PP said about not asking what she needs/wants, just doing it. When people ask me if I need anything or want anything, I can always think of things to tell them, but I rarely actually do. I don't know why, I guess in a way I feel guilty having other people do things for me when all I do is sit around here all day, every day.
If she is worried about her milk, you could bake her a batch of these cookies, and just help her remember to pump. I think that is/has been my biggest difficulty, because it is so easy to get busy doing something and let that time go by... If she knits/crochets or anything like that, get her some supplies to do that... books to read, magazines, etc. are all good... I constantly eye the magazines in the waiting room on my way through to check if there are any I want.
That sucks that the holding policy at their hospital is so anti-parent. Could you help her find some of the research that says how good it is for babies to be held as much as they can tolerate, and have her take that in for them? Just because they usually do things a certain way, doesn't mean they HAVE to do them that way, I have learned that now a couple of different times. Help her stand up for her right to hold her baby, as much as baby tolerates it. And if they stand firm on the 1 hour limit, at least encourage her to do that 1 hour skin-to-skin. They can't tell her not to (well, they can, but she doesn't have to listen). "No" is a powerful word, and sometimes they (the staff) just need to be reminded who the parents are.
waldenmommy's Avatar waldenmommy 03:09 PM 01-31-2009
I'll ditto alot of what others said. Also, does the NICU have a place for parents to store food? Our parent room was small but we could store whatever we wanted as long as we labeled it. You could buy healthy snacks that are in individual portions, like 100 cal packs, instant oatmeal (supply booster!), small boxes of cereal, baby carrots, etc. Bring freezer meals in one or two serving portions, ready to reheat. If she wants a hot cooked meal, maybe throw the meal in a (disosable!) pan ready to thaw and cook. Staples like milk, bread, etc. You can freeze raw cookie dough in "scoops" so she can pop a few cookies in the oven and have fresh, yummy, homemade cookies without any hassle.

Maybe say that every Saturday you are going to come help and clean once the baby is older and that your "payment" is seeing the new baby and holding it if she is comfortable letting you hold the baby. (I am still picky about who holds my 10 weeks old!)

Buy the auntie gifts- cute clothes, but nothing that goes OVER the head. Sleepers that snap, kimono style shirts, etc. This allows all the monitor lines to be out. Soft, washable "hanky babies." Burp cloths- I would tuck one under the girls to catch all the milk and then tuck it next to my baby so he could smell me. Also, take home the laundry from the NICU and wash it so she doesn't have to worry about it.

Disposable cameras, batteries, etc.

Unscented but super mostiurizing lotions because all the handwashing can do a number on your hands! (Mine STILL have no recovered!) Purell too- small bottle for the purse/diaper bag and a bigger one for the house or NICU.

Trashy, light reading. Ask if she wants anything to do with babies.

If they allow portable DVD players in the rooms, some movies.

Buy an MP3 player or iPod and fill it with music for her to listen too or "steal" hers if she already has one. I wish I had used mine but the power died and I never had the time to reload it with songs.

A unpadded ring sling. When he is bigger, you can hold the baby in a ring sling (put the baby in at the bottem so the line can hang out), cuddle, rock and read!

A "baby's first year" calendar. I wish I had had one to record all the NICU mildstones but avoid one that says, "It's month 2! Your baby should..." Hallmark had a nice one I used for my dd that was just pretty girly stickers with generic mildstones (held head up, met grandparents) and a place for a photo every month.

Offer to be the family "go to" person so they don't have to explain everything to everyone ten times over. You could start a blog- I use blogspot.

When you say, "How are you doing?" and she says, "Fine" you might say, "Are you REALLY fine or are you just saying that because you think I want to hear it?" Lol- a friend did this to me and it gave me the freedom to a) laugh and b) tell her what was really going on.

If she has a hobby like scrapbooking, offer to bring her her supplies in the NICU.

The single best gift I got was a huge bag filled with pumping supplies- those "Steam clean" microwave bags, milk storeage bags, lanolin, treats for me, etc. I nearly cried when I got it. Plus, I was lucky enough to have enough tubing and supplies to keep a set at home and a set in his room. This was a LIFESAVER. You might include a small cooler to transport the milk in, sharpies to label everything and a large but pretty diaper bag.

Thank you notecards if she is up to writing them. If not, perhaps offer to write them for her. Kosher? Maybe not but still one less thing for her to do!

Also, steal her away for coffee for awhile, even if it is only to the hospital cafeteria.

Gift cards for resturants, gas, phone, etc.

Good luck and a big congrads to the tiny new addition!