Life with a newborn is challenging enough but when it’s a preemie baby, it can be overwhelming. Here are just a few things that made life with our preemie that little bit easier.
1. Breast Pump
If you’re going to be pumping milk for a while, it’s worth hiring a hospital grade quality pump like the Medela (although you’ll need a ridiculous budget as it’ll cost a few thousand pounds). I bought a much more purse-friendly version, the Medela swing, and loved it. On the subject of pumping, I first used a second hand one that completely destroyed my nipples. My cure? Coconut oil and breast milk! I’d literally coat them in one or the other between pumping (every 3 hours) and they healed in a week.
2. Breast milk storage
My baby was born so early that he didn’t know how to swallow, so he was fed my breast milk through a feeding tube. This meant NICU needed a good supply of my milk! I’d pump every 3 hours at home or at the hospital and store the milk in freezer bags in a cool box. I tried three different milk storage bags but my favourite was the Advent ones for sure – they held a good amount and were easy to open/close. It seems so simple me going on about milk storage bags but when you go through the NICU experience, life needs to be as easy and uncomplicated as possible.
If your baby arrived early it’s likely you won’t have everything you need, like a steriliser. I also thought I’d exclusively breastfeed so didn’t see a need for one but pumping milk for Henry while he was in NICU meant I needed to sterilise the pump and bottles. Medela microwave bags were so, so useful! I really recommend them. They take a few minutes and are portable which means they can be taken to NICU very easily. I loved them and will use them for travel in future.
As Dubai is so Americanised, I’m so used to calling the dummy, a pacifier! Anyway, in NICU they asked if we gave permission for them to give Henry a pacifier to soothe him. We agreed. He loved it from the start! After they used the preemie size, they asked for our own. We only had a standard NUK one at home but they took it and he has cherished it ever since. I’m so glad I said yes to it as it really helped soothe him and it means he’s not really a baby that cries a lot. One piece of advice I was given is to try reduce crying as much as possible with a preemie baby, as they lose weight from crying and they desperately need to keep on growing.
5. Bottle teats
Henry struggled with breastfeeding and was too little to latch on. When he did latch, he’d fall asleep and take no milk, resulting in him needing a bottle immediately to help him put on much-needed weight. So, while in NICU he would have my breastmilk via the bottle. They’d use Medela teats which he was fine with but we were encouraged to bring in Dr Browns preemie flow teats, and he hated them. For Henry they don’t give enough milk fast enough and he’d get fussy (my little milk monster) but I recommend them for premature babies as they are less likely to cough up the extra milk that other teats give. Now we use MAM teats and Henry prefers them over all of the others we’ve tried.
In NICU most babies are snuggled in a sleepyhead style set-up, made from bed sheets folded and rolled up. So when we went to the nursery after Henry graduated from NICU, and he was placed on a flat crib mattress, he wriggled about and was clearly so comfortable. I instantly recreated the sleepyhead style cocoon with sheets and he felt safe and secure. At home we use a sleepyhead in his crib at night and on the sofa during the day – it’s the only place he’ll sleep. I guess he feels snug in there just like he felt in NICU. The sleepyhead is by far our Best Buy!
A friend gave us a foam wedge to put under the sleepyhead and we’ve used used it pretty much since the day Henry came home. It’s so simple – literally a block of foam in a wedge shape – but it helps with reflux and to settle a little preemie belly! You can buy them on Amazon pretty cheaply I think.
While Henry was in NICU, they often had relaxing lullabies on at night and it really helped create a calm environment for the poorly babies. I play relaxing music for Henry during bath time and try to keep it calm for him at bedtime with low lighting. I’ve also used a white noise soft toy a few times which is a bit hit and miss, he’ll love it or hate it. I’ll review the one I’ve got though as when it works, it works really well.
9. CPR Training
This isn’t a thing but it’s something that really helped me feel a little more confident about bringing our preemie baby home. As part of Henry’s graduation process, NICU provided basic CPR training for us. It’s scary but necessary! Actually while we talk about safety, I also recommend the SnuzaHero which can be clipped onto a nappy at night and vibrates if your baby stops breathing. If the vibration doesn’t initiate breathing, then an alarm goes off. If you’re a Mum to a preemie baby, this could be just what you need to help you sleep at night.
Living abroad means we literally had no one in those early days and my husband went back to work the day after we brought Henry home. I was poorly, exhausted and needed help. Fortunately Dubai has some really good companies where you can hire a maternity nurse who is essentially a midwife (trained in CPR and who knows how to look after a premature baby). I did this for a few days so I could rest, shower and ask them for advice. If Henry wasn’t a preemie baby, I doubt I would have needed this help but for me, it was invaluable. Get help if you need it!