Transitioning From Hospital To Home
For weeks you've anxiously waited for the doctors to tell you your premature baby is ready to go home, but when the good news finally comes, you may be surprised by your feelings of apprehension. I know I was. Although I felt relieved and happy when Daniel, my 28-weeker, was healthy enough to leave hospital care after three-and-a-half long months, I wondered if I was ready to take care of him on my own. I even thought I was a "bad mother" for my reluctance to leave the nurses, doctors and medical equipment.
I now know that my anxiousness was perfectly normal, even common, among preemie parents. Leaving 24-hour hospital care and becoming a 24-hour parent to a tiny, fragile baby is frightening! By preparing for your baby's homecoming, you'll have more confidence. Here are some things you can do:
Get to really know your baby
If you work outside the home and it's feasible, take a few days off before homecoming to spend time in the hospital. Some mothers begin their maternity leave a week before discharge, or your company may allow you to take unpaid leave. If you have siblings at home, find childcare for hospital visits.
"If you know your baby's likes and dislikes, alert times, and personality, you'll know when your at-home baby is acting sick," says Jane Brazy, MD, a neonatologist at The Center for Perinatal Care at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. You'll also more easily recognize your baby's needs, when your baby is hungry, needs comforting or wants to play, making caregiving at home less stressful.
Stay overnight in the hospital (often called "rooming in")
"Overnights give parents, particularly those who are out of town, a chance to do all caregiving with the nurses close by to answer questions," Dr Brazy says. Don't stay over the night before your baby comes home, though -- you need a good night's sleep for homecoming day.
Practice diapering, feeding, taking temperatures, giving medications and bathing your baby. Know how to take care of your baby's special needs, such as supplemental oxygen. Don't hesitate to ask questions! At first I was nervous about doing even the simplest things, like cutting Daniel's fingernails, and my hands shook the first time I changed his oxygen cannula. But I soon realized caregiving in the hospital had prepared me, and I began to trust my parenting skills.
Learn infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
Your hospital may offer a course, or look under "First Aid Instruction" in the telephone book.
Simulate day and night
To help your baby learn about daytime and nighttime, ask the nurses to simulate a day-night schedule -- less lighting at night and fewer disturbances. But don't expect your baby to settle into a routine immediately after homecoming. He'll need at least a week or two to adjust to his new environment.
Arrange for homecoming help
You'll need someone to care for siblings, clean the house, make dinners or watch the baby while you take a nap. Lessen stress as much as possible. In addition to caring for your baby with special needs, you'll also need time and energy to take care of yourself. The crisis that follows a preterm delivery is emotionally and physically draining. Allow yourself time to heal.
Find peer support
Following Daniel's homecoming I started a support group for parents of premature children. I needed to be around others who understood my feelings and concerns. We also shared valuable information. To find a local support group, ask your hospital social worker. On the Internet, one of the most popular support groups is Preemie-L. Chats and e-mail lists can also be found at www.preemies.org .
With practice in the hospital, then at home, you'll feel more comfortable caring for your baby, and you'll have more time to enjoy your new family. Nine years later, I fondly remember the many hours I sat rocking Daniel in my arms that first year after he came home. Preemie parents, like you and me, wait a long time to get our babies home -- we deserve to enjoy them!